Of Companies and Coursework: Pursuing higher education throughout a professional performing career

Posted on: 2016/05/30

Jacqueline Straughan started her professional career with the The National Ballet of Canada. After moving to Salt Lake City’s Ballet West, Jacqueline began the journey of studying for her Bachelor of Science Business Degree in Green & Sustainable Enterprise Management while working as a dancer. She recently graduated from the University of Phoenix and has been promoted to Principal Dancer at Oregon Ballet Theatre for their 2016/17 season. Read on for her tips on pursuing dance and academics simultaneously, and find out how her studies unexpectedly benefited her dance career.

Jacqueline is the recipient of a DTRC Retraining Grant.

Written by Jacqueline Straughan
Photo: Almost Tango by Beau Pearson (2015)

Pursuing a degree while performing is not for the faint of heart, but absolutely worth it.

I’m proud to say that this past February I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Green & Sustainable Enterprise Management with honors while dancing as a First Soloist with Ballet West. It was a journey that spanned 11 of the 16 years I have been performing professionally.

 The biggest challenge I faced in studying while performing was committing to academic excellence while maintaining high standards on stage. I was not willing to compromise my performance quality for my educational goals, but was determined to find a way to excel at both.

I learned very quickly that writing papers after six-hour rehearsal days, or during two-performance days, was not going to work. By scheduling my coursework during rehearsal and performance seasons that were less demanding, and during the summer, I was able to dedicate more time and focus toward my academic goals.

An online classroom environment was instrumental in this regard, because I had the flexibility to create a personalized and dynamic schedule that allowed me to move at my own pace. As a mature student I found comfort in taking all of my courses online since that provided me not only the most scheduling options to accommodate my lifestyle and personality, but also capitalized on my strengths as a proficient, self-motivated learner. Working on my degree on a reduced basis while I was dancing also made academic study more affordable and eliminated any need for student loans.

My career has benefited significantly from pursing higher education simultaneously. In addition to challenging my overall thinking and developing me as a person, I saw the value of my studies influencing the confidence and evolution of my artistry. Once I started viewing my academics as part of my career, my dance work transformed and I began to move up the ranks. Constantly questioning my motivation and asking myself “Why?”, has not only allowed me to dive deeper into my art form, but has also helped me craft a career that speaks to my individual artistic needs. 

In addition to tailoring my academic schedule to fit my dance career, I also negotiated reduced contracts with Ballet West that were tailored around ballets I was passionate about performing. As I move to Portland to accept a contract as a Principal dancer with Oregon Ballet Theatre for the 2016/2017 season, I acknowledge the role my education has played in sharpening my focus and achieving my goals. My career is how I envision it because my education taught me to think outside the box. 

It is empowering to know that I have made a sound investment in my future that is already paying out dividends. I’m no longer just a dancer without a backup plan when I retire from the stage. I’m now an educated woman and passionate performer, who has interests and skills that extend far beyond the footlights. 


Helping dancers make necessary transitions into, within, and from professional performing careers since 1985.