Stillwater seventh-grader balances academic, artistic pursuits

Young Stillwater dancer's day includes rehearsals, meetings, practice, homework

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  • Photos provided Dancer Marah Whitby, a seventh-grader from Stillwater, balances a busy schedule of artistic and academic pursuits.

  • Kittatinny Middle School student Marah Whitby has been dancing since she was just a tot.

By Laurie Gordon

For most, sometimes life can be a balancing act. For Marah Whitby, it's always one. The Kittatinny Middle School seventh- grader is involved in a whole lot. Managing all of her activities and maintaining high honor roll grades isn't always easy, but Whitby has become a maestro.

She's involved in Junior High Student Council, Select Choir and the Junior High Musical at her school but then, on top of that, she's a competitive dancer and quite a good one. Rehearsals, meetings, practices and homework make up her daily routine.

“I started dancing when I was two, so this is my eleventh year,” Whitby said. “For six years I attended Branchville Dance Centre and for the past five years I’ve danced at Dream Xtreme Dance By Nikki.”

Her dancing includes on pointe ballet, lyrical, jazz modern and acro.

She transitioned to Dream Xtreme Dance in 2013 because her first studio was closing and her favorite dance teacher, Nikki Primo, was taking over Dream Xtreme Dance. Competitive dance involves a lot of practice and as recital times near, numerous additional rehearsals.

At Kittatinny, her roles in the play 'Dear Edwina Junior,' is one of the lead characters named Kelli Poshkonozich.

“She is the local town dancer,” Whitby said. “Our rehearsals for the musical range from ending at 3:15 p.m. to ending at 5:15 p.m. The amount of days a week changes too. We start off with two rehearsals a week and in March we start adding on to three weekdays and lead practice afterwards and Saturdays from 8:30-11:30 a.m.. Once we hit April we have five to six practices in a week, mostly till 5:15 p.m.”

A typical day for Whitby starts with an early school bus. In the Kittatinny school system, middle schoolers take the high school bus, so Whitby is up by 6 a.m. The school day is from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and then it's off to Musical or Select Choir until 5:15 p.m.. From there, Whitby goes straight to dance which isn't just around the corner ‑‑ it's in Franklin. Dance typically ends around 7:30 p.m., then it's a drive back to Stillwater when she eats dinner and starts her homework. The next morning, when the alarm rings, it's time to repeat.

The weekends aren't a time to rest. Whitby has dance on Saturdays, and on Sundays, she is part of a Sunday School Group at the United Methodist Church in Newton. She also helps the church at the NJ State Fair/Sussex County Farm and Horse show and with other activities.

Then there are those grades “Getting High Honor roll is a challenge with having a lot of stuff to do but it's possible,” Whitby said. “What I do is I try to fit homework in. My dance teachers and all the musical directors always say that academics come first so if I really have to miss something for school I will but I really hate doing that so I find any time I can to fit everything in.”

Once in high school, Whitby plans to take French because she took it at Stillwater Elementary School until the French teacher retired and the class was replaced with Spanish.

“I took French from kindergarten through grade two and thought it was a fun language,” she said. “In high school, I would love to be in as many honors classes as a I can but we’ll have to see what happens.”

Whitby's next competition is on April 14.

“We have to be as ready as we can be to compete against other dance studios,” Whitby said. “Our practices will get longer and harder, but it's always fun. On Tuesdays we have dance from 5-7 and on Wednesday from 4:30-7:30; Thursday from 6-8 and Saturdays from 10-3. The play and dance will interflict but by not very much.”

The play is Friday, May 11, and Saturday, May 12.

“As we get closer to the day of our performance of 'Dear Edwina Junior' I’m excited for the cast to become like a family, then mix the crew in. I am so hyped.”

Whitby is also looking ahead to life after high school.

“I'm not sure where I want to go to college or what I want to be as an adult but I do know one thing: I want to do something that makes an impact,” she said.

Whitby always pushes herself to do her best, both academically and with her extracurricular activities. She's an artist, singer, volunteer, actress, dancer and ballerina who truly “raises the barre.”

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