Is Work–Life Balance Possible for Dance Educators in Leadership Positions?
August 31, 2022

For those working in leadership positions in dance schools, it can feel as if there is a never-ending to-do list waiting to be evaluated and executed. While a 40-hour work week is considered standard, it is not uncommon for school directors to put in many hours beyond that. With an endless line of students, parents and staff looking to their leaders for guidance, is it possible for the head honcho to find a reasonable work–life balance?

Dance Teacher interviewed five dance school directors to find out how they manage the weight of running big dance-education organizations while attempting to maintain some personal time for themselves and their families.

Peter Stark, President and Director of The Rock School for Dance Education

Photo by Igor Burlak, courtesy Stark

Leadership experience: 22 years, including Orlando Ballet School, Next Generation Ballet, Boston Ballet II

Rebuilding vs. balance: “Right now, I have very little work–life balance because I am rebuilding The Rock School brand. I usually start emails by 6:30 am and sign off around 6 pm when I get home. Additionally, I often work three hours on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s sometimes easier to work from home because there are less distractions.”

Nobody is immune: “I’ve been working in leadership for a while and have felt burnt out several times. Physically, I can feel faint or out of breath. It can show up as exhaustion or panic. I actively work on techniques to counter this, like breathing or taking a break. But whenever I’m stressed, entering the studio takes the weight off my shoulders.”

Burnout prevention: “I don’t often have time to recover, though I endeavor to meditate and work out. When I take time to fill myself with art, reading, or something life-balancing, I come to work better. Currently, I’m in a men’s group. They are not dancers, but it is interesting to discover how many of our problems are the same.”

Racheal Nye, School Director of Oklahoma City Ballet Yvonne Chouteau School

Racheal Nye with students
Photo by Jana Carson, courtesy Nye

Leadership experience: Four years, including Kansas City Ballet School

Being new on the job: “I work 50 to 60 hours weekly because I am fairly new in my position. I drop my children off at school around 8 am, and then get set up for the day. I teach off and on until about 2 pm. Afterwards, I manage every aspect of our school. Luckily, I have an administrator who is integral in the execution of my policies. At the end of my day, I observe evening classes before leaving around 6:30 pm.”

COVID burnout: “At the beginning of the pandemic, there were many tasks that weren’t yet within my level of expertise. I’m happy to accept feedback regarding things I’m confident about, but COVID protocols were very difficult. Ultimately, anything that was a success was shared and anything that wasn’t ended up on my shoulders. That feeling caused burnout.”

Downtime is family time: “I have two children aged 6 and 8. My rare downtime is trying to slow down and letting them lead. My husband is also my co-worker [Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye, acting artistic director of Oklahoma City Ballet]. While tempting, we try not to talk about work at home.”

Endalyn Taylor, Dean of School of Dance at University of North Carolina School for the Arts

Photo by Peter Mueller, courtesy Taylor

Leadership experience: 15 years, including Dance Theatre of Harlem School, where she was school director and co-director of education and outreach

The hours that don’t count: “I put in 40 hours per week consistently, though many hours don’t count because I’m not directly doing something for my position. I might go to performances or read about what is happening in the industry. Those hours become part of my work week because I need to know what is happening in our field.”

Always expected to be working: “It is very challenging to be in leadership roles, particularly as a woman of color, and not be expected to show you are always working. There is a certain amount of Black tax that comes with leadership positions, which means you will likely be overworked.”

Stepping away: “I stepped away from my position at DTH to take an assistant professorship at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. I did so deliberately to be closer to my family and get back in the classroom. This helped me appreciate that sometimes you just have to be at the table, and it also inspired me to return to my leadership role.”

Alex Pandiscio, Owner and Director of Bayou City Ballet School

Photo by Jaime Diaz, courtesy Pandiscio

Leadership experience: 15 years, including Uptown Dance Company, AGMA Delegate

At dinner, in the shower: “I work 60 hours each week. Being a small school, I take on a lot. The planning aspect never shuts off. I’m at dinner thinking about what’s next, or I’m in the shower thinking about casting.”

Breaking the back-to-back grind: “One perk as director of a small school is I can create a schedule that works best for me. I finally broke the habit of scheduling classes and rehearsals back-to-back. Those 10- to 15-minute breaks are super-helpful to refresh my mind and ensure I am at my peak to give.”

Getting help: “I’m working with my therapist to avoid burnout. Steps include finding time in nature, meditation and talking with friends. It’s also helpful talking with other directors who reinforce that overwork comes with the territory. You have to make a plan and take self-care steps to stay grounded.”

Catherine Livengood Lewellen, Director and Founder of Elite Classical Coaching

Photo by Rhi Lee Photography, courtesy Lewellen

Leadership experience: 5+ years, including leading ballet programs for competition schools

Keeping things small: “I rent space from a competition school to avoid any huge overhead. We work Monday through Friday between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm. I have three kids at home, so I can be a mom in the evening and on weekends.”

Being realistic: “If we have back-to-back competitions or events, I may feel a bit overwhelmed. I could fill every second of every day. But, generally, I try to be realistic when taking on projects.”

Saying no: “The biggest thing is knowing what is most important and drawing boundaries. I create a rubric for myself and chart things out. Opportunities will always come up, but you have to learn when to say no.”

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