Passion to pressure: a dancer’s struggle with burnout and quitting the team


Alexandra Spoelker does a dramatic pose to show her personality in dance.

The judges grab the mic and announce second place, instant shock hits the team. They won. Nationals. She had a decision to make. A final decision on the internal debate she had been having with herself for months.

Alexandra Spoelker quit the schools dance team her senior year after 16 years of dancing. She continues to dance for her studio, but this moment was her last season with them because of college. 

“The schools dance team is much like a drill team. It’s very intense and it’s very hard on your body. It’s very hard. And when I dance at my studio, my company, it’s more freeing, an artistic dance. Dance team is very much more of an athletic sport rather than an art,” Spoelker said.

Spoelker realized the dance team wasn’t giving her what she desired.

“I never was able to experience an artistic expression on the dance team, and after I got an injury from the dance team I realized it wasn’t good for me mentally or physically,” Spoelker said.

Spoelker’s younger sister Caroline dances on both the school team and at the studio, too. She also notes that there are distinct differences between the two styles of dance.

“The school dance team was a different breed of dance than what we were used to doing at our studio. It was hard-hitting and sharp in a way that we did not have to be at the studio. The judges at a school competition are sitting at the top of the bleachers, so they are judging the visuals that the entire team creates. For studio dance, the judges are right next to the stage, sometimes no more than ten feet from you,” Caroline said.

Spoelker got injured in November of 2021, her junior year; this set her back with her skills and performance.

“I tore my ACL, not completely though it was hanging by a thread. I had the option for surgery, but I didn’t take it and I worked my butt off in physical therapy for like 12 months. I had to constantly wear a knee brace,” Spoelker said.

Caroline has been following in her sisters pirouette, port de bras, and pas de chat since she was a toddler.

“My sister and I have danced our entire lives since we were around three years old. Though we participated in other sports such as cheerleading, soccer, and softball, dance was always incorporated into our schedules. I think it could have been because our grandmother danced when she was younger or just that we enjoyed it. Regardless, I can remember always wanting to dance like her even from a young age,” Caroline said. 

Caroline has watched her sister push herself to her limits in dance, and has seen her grow as a dancer improving each time she performed and practiced. Caroline told The Knight Times that the school dance team sharpened Spoelker’s dance moves, giving her a more solid foundation.

“Her technique improved and her dancing really matured in those years,” Caroline said. “She has loved the art of dancing at our new studio more than she ever has. Her ambitious and fiery personality has helped her improve tenfold in her dancing and now, as a senior in high school, she is an amazing dancer of her own kind. She is passionate and expressive in her dancing and it shows through when watching her.”

Waking up at early hours for school then to going to dance for about 7 hours after school caught up to Spoelker. She would spend about 30 hours of her week towards dance.

“We would have to perform at games one to two times a week and would have competitions almost every weekend for three to four months for both school and the studio. It was taxing and arduous, a very vigorous schedule to maintain and it was difficult on us,” Caroline said.

The pressure of constant competition and rigorous schedule played a tole in Spoelker’s decision to quit the school dance team, which Camden Wackenthaler, Spoelkers boyfriend, sees as a positive outcome.

“When she quit the dance team she seemed to be a lot less stressed out. I think it turned out to be the best decision for her because she seemed so much happier,” Wackenthaler said.

The studio doesn’t last forever, with Spoelker attending the University of Cincinnati she won’t have time to focus on dance.

“Our last regional competition is in May. But this year we are doing nationals so it all ends the first week of July,” Spoelker said. “It is very sad and I try to not think about it because I’ve danced all my life and now it’s coming to an end.”