Imagine a world where your gifted young athlete or performer can balance rigorous academics with the pursuit of an invigorating passion. Envision a childhood untethered from the restraints of a rigid educational system, to one that promotes flexibility, individuality, and socialization with like-minded peers. Initially, Natalia, a thirteen-year-old talented dancer from Naperville, IL, was hesitant to homeschool, but the pandemic prompted her family to start. In this story, you’ll discover how this flexible, alternative form of education has made all the difference for this competitive dancer and her family.

Meet Natalia

Natalia’s dancing DNA runs deep. Her mother, Vanda, is a professional ballroom dancer and her father, Mario, is a tongue-in-cheek self-described “freestyle” dancer. Natalia began dancing just after learning how to walk. She remembers when her mom first put her in dance classes: “It was a way to express myself as a three-year-old,” Natalia says. After experimenting with soccer for a bit, she determined that dancing was her path. By the age of six, she began competitive dancing, adding solos to her group performances, winning competitions, and eventually traveling as an assistant for DanceMakers, Inc. with performers from the show So You Think You Can Dance.

Their Homeschool Journey Begins

For Natalia and her family, homeschooling was never part of the original plan. “At first, I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep friends,” she says. “Then I stopped worrying about it.” She quickly found satisfaction in her social experiences through dance, where her peers share a common language and interest. Her parents were never really concerned about socialization though. Her father, Mario, jests, “She is social; maybe she gets it from me, unlike the dancing.”

dancer jumping

As the pandemic started, Natalia and her parents began to see homeschooling as a possible solution to balancing school and dance. Natalia’s interest in homeschooling stemmed from her peers. “I went to the dance awards in 2020. The really competitive dancers were the ones who were homeschooled. I was inspired.” For her parents, the move was more logistical. During the pandemic, Natalia was doing school remotely and traveling with DanceMakers. “This was our first trial with homeschooling,” Mario said. As Natalia started to travel more, wanting to compete against the best in broader circles and meet more of her co-artists, Mario thought, “If we went back to school, how would we be able to do this?”

When homeschooling became more of a realistic option, Vanda conducted research to find the right curriculum for her family. She looked at price and structure, and spoke to homeschoolers she knew, including some of Natalia’s peers. Time4Learning seemed to be the perfect fit. “The website outlines everything, so you can see the content in advance, and the program is known,” Mario says. He describes online learning as an opportunity that allowed Natalia to balance school and dancing with traveling in a way that worked for the whole family.

Balancing a Homeschool Schedule with Competitive Dance

Now, as a more experienced homeschooler, Natalia varies her schedule to make everything work. She does three to four hours of homeschooling every day, and then balances those hours with dance classes at Dance Spot of Dupage and Visceral and practice time at her mom’s dance studio. The flexibility of homeschooling with Time4Learning enables her to alternate between evenings and mornings for learning and dance. Frequently, she uses weekends to catch up or to get ahead when she has a competition the following week. Natalia has the flexibility to attend the dance classes that she wants to attend, and practice and train while also keeping up with her studies. “She couldn’t do this in a regular school,” says Mario.

“Homeschooling has become a full circle moment to find what I need as a person. I am more in tune with myself. I found more skills and am learning my strengths and learning what I need to work on.”

Natalia

Since their decision to homeschool, the family has gained numerous benefits. “Homeschooling has become a full circle moment to find what I need as a person,” she says, “I am more in tune with myself. I found more skills and am learning my strengths and learning what I need to work on.” Through the traveling that online homeschooling has granted them, the family is also enjoying field trips. For example, they went to the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit and saw the Rosa Parks bus, allowing Natalia to make the connection with what she learned through Time4Learning. Mario suggests, “To see in person is usually better,” so when they travel, they try to make it a point to schedule educational field trips.

Supporting a Healthy Mind & Body

Mario notes that homeschooling builds independence. It is a lot like college, he says, doing things on your own with whatever distractions are at home. Natalia doesn’t have the distractions that are at school, and she doesn’t need to deal with others at school who may not understand her passion. Mario adds that he sees an increase in confidence by eliminating the need to ask for help in front of the rest of the class. Natalia agrees and encourages others to “not be afraid to ask for help. For me, I was almost ashamed to ask for help. It’s okay to go back.” With Time4Learning, she reviews material, retakes quizzes and tests, and works through challenging lab reports. Her parents easily monitor her progress and keep track of completed work.

Most importantly, perhaps, for the athletic demands of dancing, homeschooling supports a healthy body. “Homeschooling helps with resting and eating well, having the correct body to go and do it again,” Natalia says. If she needs ice or a heating pad, the schedule is flexible, and she can take care of her body. With classes lasting as late as 10 p.m., followed by a 45-minute drive from Chicago to their home in Naperville, sometimes Natalia gets home late. Mario says, “We can let her sleep in; she doesn’t need to wake up at 6:45 to take the school bus.” Natalia is thankful for this and sees it as a component of her success: “If I don’t get enough sleep, I wouldn’t feel good. Then I would not be 100% for school or for dancing.”

Read more about Natalia's inspiring story!

At 13, Naperville Full-Time Dancer Balances Passion With School.

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Paving the Way for Future Dance Goals

What’s in the future for Natalia? “I want to be an artist, part of something larger than myself,” she says. Natalia says she can see herself collaborating, maybe in a dance company, and eventually doing choreography. “I think homeschooling still is an option. This year has brought so much flexibility and what we needed.”

Natalia has this advice for other young athletes and performers: “If you feel that you are meant to do something, you should go for it. Don’t be afraid to go after what you want to do.  I was intimidated to do homeschooling, then I realized it is meant to be.”