Healthy Dancer Tips

September/October 2016

Autumn is here and it is officially back to school season! It can be difficult to balance the schedules and demands of a serious dance program along with those of school, extra-curricular activities and maintaining a personal life. We reached out for advice from:

Karen Gayle
Faculty Member
School at Steps/Steps on Broadway


The School at Steps Question: Do you make use of any scheduling notebooks or apps to help you manage your time?

Karen Gayle Answer: Absolutely. I’m a bit old school, so I use a little pocket calendar. I have a small ‘at a glance’ sized one as well as a larger one that allows you to write specific notes for each day. I recently started using the app Cozi, which allows you to sync up with other family members, and sends you reminders if you need them. It’s helpful, for those that prefer to have everything online.

Q: Do you have any advice for new students/parents who need help managing their time?

A: Plan ahead. Time passes very quickly, so be prepared ahead of time. Although it’s hard, always try and get things done as they come up, the longer you wait the more items build in the ‘to do’ list, which becomes overwhelming and intimidating.

In addition, try and set aside a few minutes at the start of each week to simply visualize what the week will entail. Just give yourself a moment, (no distractions) to go over in your head how the days will proceed. It’s like a re-start button.

Q: What was the most difficult transition in your training and/or professional life, in terms of time management?

A: Motherhood! And I’m still working on it.

Q: As a parent, how do you help your child manage their time?

A: My girls are still quite young (2 and 5) so they are still dependent on us for their daily routine. My oldest is in school but has already been thrown into the groove of ‘school, homework, play, activities, etc’. Our home is full of dry erase boards, chalkboards and notebooks that everyone can see. I’m a visual person, so I need to be able to see my schedule and physically cross off an item on the ‘to do’ list. The more organized your time, the quicker you’re able to eliminate the ‘to do’s’ so you can really enjoy the important stuff: love and laughter!!


Karen Gayle is a Faculty Member of The School at Steps and Steps on Broadway. She is also the Founder and Artistic Director of xodus dance collective. To view full bio, click here.

Alyssa Sarnoff
Alumna of the Pre-Professional Program
School at Steps


While you studied with The School at Steps, how did you balance your schoolwork, dance schedule and any other outside activities?

Alyssa Sarnoff Answer: In terms of my schedule, I went to the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, which was very academically strenuous, and took 18 classes a week at Steps. I was at Steps for four hours a night and all day Saturday. That meant that I had to work late nights during the week and all day Sunday to get my homework done. I always set a time for myself each night that I wouldn’t work past because being exhausted during the day was not going to be beneficial. I, therefore, had to make the most of my free periods at school and get my homework done then. I always left Friday nights and Saturday nights (after dance) free to see my friends or go out to dinner, because I definitely needed time to decompress and relax.

Q: Do you currently use any scheduling notebooks or apps to keep yourself organized?

A:I don’t use any scheduling apps (I don’t know how to input events into my calendar on my phone) but for the most part I followed the same schedule every week in high school and tried to do the same in college. I liked the sense of consistency of knowing that every week at this time I would go to the gym or go to the library. If I was lucky enough to not have work one day, it would be a treat for myself to get to do something new and fun but this strict schedule helped me stay organized.

Q: Could you please describe the transition from your School at Steps schedule to your schedule at Northwestern University?

A: The hardest thing about transitioning to my schedule at Northwestern was that I had so much more free time. For the most part, I would only have 2-3 classes scheduled a day, leaving hours of the day open (something I had truly never experienced in high school). This meant it was completely up to me to decide when I wanted to get my work done, when I wanted to exercise and when I wanted to relax. It’s honestly hard to figure out what your ideal day looks like when your friends are doing wildly different things (like going to the gym at 10pm), it makes you think about whether or not its something you should try (it wasn’t).

Q: Do you have any time management advice you would give your younger self?

A: The best advice I can give about balancing academic work and a heavy dance schedule is to start your assignments as soon as you can. I have found that getting to work on an essay, for example, the day you get it allows you to process your ideas, write them down, and then walk away from the essay, even if it is not totally complete. You then have the ability to go back to it closer to the time that the assignment is due with fresh eyes to see if you have any new ideas that have developed, and you avoid any high-pressured time crunch.


Alyssa Sarnoff completed the demanding Pre-Professional Program with The School at Steps and went on to study Musical Theater and Economics at Northwestern University. While at Northwestern, she danced in the Chicago Lyric Opera’s production of Carousel with Rob Ashford, and The Merry Widow with Susan Stroman.
Click here to follow her professional performance career.