Feature Articles

Dancers in a new role: Mother

Kenna Morris Garcia. Photo courtesy of Garcia.
Kenna Morris Garcia. Photo courtesy of Garcia.

Have you checked out this video clip of New York City Ballet’s Ashley Bouder executing flawless fouetté turns at 37 weeks pregnant? Insane, right? Well, yes and no. Today, more and more female dancers are embracing their craft both during and after their pregnancy. Having a child is no longer certain to stifle a dancer’s career. Rather, expectant and new mothers have the freedom to choose their own paths for both them and their babies. Each dancer’s journey is unique, but dance can certainly be a part of that new chapter.

Here, Dance Informa speaks with five professional dancers — from ballerinas to Broadway performers — who are new mothers. Read how each woman decided to incorporate dance into her life during her pregnancy and how her identity and career as a dancer have changed since giving birth.

Caitlin Abraham (An American in Paris, Chicago, Carolina Ballet)

Caitlin Abraham with baby Ella. Photo courtesy of Abraham.

Caitlin Abraham with baby Ella. Photo courtesy of Abraham.

Deciding to have a child is one of the greatest decisions of a woman’s life, especially when her career is a dancer. What was this decision like for you?

“As a dancer I really feel like we really experience living in our bodies — it’s a heightened awareness. I believe that for a woman, the ultimate experience of ‘living in your body’ is to have a child. It’s an amazing thing that our bodies are able to do, and I wanted to experience that.”

Did you dance while you were pregnant (performance, class, exercise)?

“I was actually working at An American in Paris on Broadway while I was pregnant. I had terrible morning sickness and had to keep ginger snaps and lemonade in the wings to curb my nausea! Other than that, it was really fun to think that this teeny tiny baby was with me every night on that stage. During my second trimester, I continued taking class myself, running auditions for Joffrey Ballet School, and setting my own choreography while pregnant. At this time, my range of motion did change a little bit (I couldn’t cambré back). During the third trimester, I stopped traveling on the audition tours, but I still took class. I was actually in Nancy Bielski’s Advanced/Professional ballet class at Steps on Broadway on my due date! It was amazing for me to gauge how I had to modify my approach to ballet technique as my body changed (belly grew, hips got bigger). I used a pregnancy support “belt” in class (like the ones that support your lower back), and that was very helpful in making me feel secure and supported. When you’re pregnant, you can retain a lot of water. Dance was my only way to ‘sweat’ while pregnant (I couldn’t really break one in the gym). It was such an incredible endorphin release to be able to sweat and move and express myself in ballet class. And I felt that getting my blood pumping was not only helping me but my growing baby as well. There are things that you can’t do in class (I couldn’t really battement), but I didn’t let that get me down. As I got further into my pregnancy and was able to do less and less in class, I made a point to stand close to the piano so that my baby could experience the vibrations and music.”

How difficult was it to get back into dancing after giving birth?

“After I gave birth, I didn’t do anything for a month except take care of my daughter and maybe walk a bit around my neighborhood. But less than four weeks later, my agent called me in for a big ballet audition. I didn’t feel like my ‘dancer’ self or ready to get back in the game, but I definitely wanted to…so with the okay from my doctor, I got back in class. It was hard both emotionally and physically. I actually bled after my first class back (which is common, but sometimes a sign of ‘too much too quickly’). I felt so conflicted; as if by dancing again I was resisting my new life as a mother. I’ve realized that I can do both; it’s not out of grasp. But the first step to getting there was to take class. Had I not had this deadline of the big audition, I probably would have taken the transition back to dance more slowly and gently. But at the same time, I am grateful and proud that I took on the challenge. And now it feels really good to be back and ready for action!”

Is there added pressure for dancers to get back in shape and on stage after giving birth?

“The most pressure I feel is from myself. I think the biggest thing to prove is that I can book another show since having a kid, and that I can find that work/life balance. There are parts of your identity that shift once you have a baby, but there are also the parts that you hold fast to. I am a dancer. Our physique is part of our marketing strategy and our instrument as a dancer. Of course you want that back! But I don’t feel like that pressure is coming from the outside; it’s coming from me.”

How has being a mother changed who you are as a dancer?

“I have incredibly strong focus. When I go in the studio, I really have a sort of laser vision with what I want to accomplish with an exercise or phrase. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m so grateful and happy to be there, because I’m more in tune with myself somehow, or if the way I pay attention to my baby has made me more attentive to the movement or moment at hand. But I think it’s a real benefit. I’m also more grounded and patient in feeling and figuring things out. I think I’m also friendlier! I’m less serious in class and more interested in the human interaction with my teacher, partner and peers.”

What advice would you give to expectant and new mothers, in terms of dancing?

“I would encourage expectant mothers to dance during your entire pregnancy. Don’t be scared. Since you’re a dancer, you’re very in tune with your body and will know what movement is a ‘no-no’. Just listen to your body and allow it to change throughout your pregnancy. Besides all of the obvious physical benefits of dance, I also think it would have been so much harder for me to jump back in after giving birth had I stopped dancing while pregnant. And having that sense of community is wonderful — to feel connected to what’s going on and to feel support and enthusiasm from your peers. I felt like that connection was so good for my spirit and energy while pregnant.”

Do you incorporate dance into your daughter’s life?

“My daughter, Ella,  is 10 weeks old, and I dance with her every day — just bouncing around, rocking her to sleep, listening to Pandora. She really responds to movement, probably because that’s what she knew in utero! I’ll sit her against my thighs, hold her hands and dance her arms around while I sing songs or make funny faces. She’s too little to do much right now, but she can kick and wiggle and give a mean ‘shimmy-shock’!”

Ashley Fitzgerald Kelly (Gigi, On the Town, Trip of Love)

Deciding to have a child is one of the greatest decisions of a woman’s life, especially when her career is a dancer. What was this decision like for you?

“I’m 33 now, and at 30 I knew I wanted to have a baby. Having a baby while I was still ‘young’ was important to me, but I had some career benchmarks I wanted to meet. I worked my tail off to meet those, and once I did, I knew the time was right!”

Did you dance while you were pregnant?

“I did dance. I took ballet and Pilates until I couldn’t lie on my back anymore. At four-and-a-half months, I performed ‘I Gotcha’ at a cancer benefit honoring women who have conquered the disease. Around five months, I started to have some SI joint problems, which made dancing painful, so I had to put that on the back burner. I traded it in for strength training with light weights and cardio.”

Ashley Fitzgerald Kelly. Photo courtesy of Kelly.

Ashley Fitzgerald Kelly. Photo courtesy of Kelly.

How difficult was it to get back into dancing after giving birth?

“I’m still on that journey! It’s been a tough one. Your body doesn’t want to do certain things anymore. It’s been interesting navigating and relearning how to do things that work for this new body you have. But I honestly feel like a better and smarter dancer because of it!”

Is there added pressure for dancers to get back in shape and on stage after giving birth?

“The only pressure is the pressure we put on ourselves. We must follow our path and don’t focus on anyone else’s. What works for someone else might not work for you, and that’s okay!”

How has being a mother changed who you are as a dancer?

“I feel smarter. Dancing used to be my first love, but now it’s taken a back seat. I always think that life experiences make you a better performer. And being a mother is the ultimate experience!”

What advice would you give to expectant and new mothers, in terms of dancing?

“Do what is right for you. Stay in your lane, and always make sure to check with your doctor. Know that juggling motherhood and work is difficult but possible.”

Do you incorporate dance into your daughter’s life?

“Not yet. But have no doubt I will be stretching those feet ASAP! All jokes aside, I would love for Eden to dance. I learned so much about discipline through dance classes, and, most importantly, dance taught me to be a confident woman.”

Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer (Bullets Over Broadway, Follies, Curtains, Anything Goes, Radio City Rockettes)

Deciding to have a child is one of the greatest decisions of a woman’s life, especially when her career is a dancer. What was this decision like for you?

“I was nervous to feel my body grow and change. However, I knew it would offer me the future my husband and I wanted. Surprisingly, I loved being pregnant! I felt alive and sexy. It was the opposite of what I expected. I loved having my little buddy with me all the time.”

Did you dance while you were pregnant?

Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer with Essex. Photo courtesy of Maschmeyer.

Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer with Essex. Photo courtesy of Maschmeyer.

“I worked as a swing in the Met Opera’s The Merry Widow. That gig lasted until about four-and-a-half months into my pregnancy. I took ballet class and did lots of yoga. I also completed my 200-hour teacher training for my yoga certification.”

How difficult was it to get back into dancing after giving birth?

“Pregnancy, to me, was an athletic event. I ate well, I rested, and I worked out (hardcore) six days a week right up to (and including) the day I gave birth. My workout regime included everything from yoga, to dance cardio, to barre classes. I believe this all helped me to have a natural and wonderful birth. My body felt ready, so when the big day came I was physically able and had the endurance to handle the pain I was given. Because of my approach to exercising while pregnant, I feel it was easier post-birth to get back into dancing shape. But it wasn’t straightforward! With all the changes in my body, I really had to find my core again.”

Is there added pressure for dancers to get back in shape and on stage after giving birth? 

“There’s immense pressure for all women to get back to their pre-baby bodies, and that pressure is tenfold for dancers. And we put added pressure on ourselves. As soon as I was cleared to exercise around four weeks post-birth, I did. While your body is always a bit different post-baby, I felt so proud and honored to even have been given the blessing of delivering a child. I always remind myself of that gift, and I never take that for granted.

Many people warned me that choreographers wouldn’t hire me now that I was a mom. That has not been my experience. Ten weeks after birth, my mentor had lunch with me to meet my son, Essex. I was back in the studio with her working for pre-production of a show just a couple months later. I find that people who would judge me in a negative light for being a mom are not people I’m interested in sharing my time with.”

Has being a mother changed who you are as a dancer?

“Absolutely. For instance, my time is more precious to me now. When I dance, I want it to be with people I love and pieces I feel passionate to be a part of. I’m also more kind, understanding and grateful in my life since taking the title of ‘mom’. That, in turn, has made me even happier to be in a room rehearsing or on stage performing.”

What advice would you give to expectant and new mothers (in terms of dancing)?

“1) Always listen to your body. On days I needed to rest, I did. On days I wanted to sweat, I did. 2) If certain movements don’t agree with your pregnancy, don’t push yourself. 3) The time can feel so long while you’re waiting to get back to your old body, but savor the pregnancy and post-pregnancy. But you never get those precious moments again. 4) Your body will bounce back, so don’t stress! Enjoy your new beautiful life as a mom. It’s the best credit on anyone’s resume!”

Do you incorporate dance into your son’s life?

“I turn on music in the morning, and we have ‘dance time’ after breakfast. Essex has a natural grace to his movement. He already seems quite kinesthetic, so we will see how this unfolds! I do not have any interest in becoming a stage mom. I want Essex to find his own passions and, most importantly, to live a happy and fulfilled life.”

Kenna Morris Garcia (Memphis tour, The Wiz Encores!, Radio City Rockettes)

Deciding to have a child is one of the greatest decisions of a woman’s life, especially when her career is a dancer. What was this decision like for you?

“It was an easy decision once I felt my heart was ready.”

Did you dance while you were pregnant? 

“I taught jazz and hip hop classes up until two weeks before giving birth. My teaching schedule took a lot of my energy, so taking class wasn’t part of my regular schedule as the pregnancy progressed.”

How difficult was it to get back into dancing after giving birth? 

“This was extremely difficult for me! Finding the time, energy and mental strength to get back to class and train regularly is a challenge. I gave birth via a c-section, so that brought about more complications to getting back to dancing quickly.”

Is there added pressure for dancers to get back in shape and on stage after giving birth?

“Absolutely. Dance is a career where you don’t get paid unless you’re working. There is minimal (if any) maternity leave. And if you’re out of the audition circuit for a long time, you might feel forgotten. Many dancers are easily replaceable, so there is pressure to keep up with the competition and get back in the game.”

How has being a mother changed who you are as a dancer?

“It has changed my focus. Personally, I can’t put that full effort and focus into my performing career because now my son is the center of my life.”

What advice would you give to expectant and new mothers, in terms of dancing?

“Keep dancing as much as you can/are allowed through your pregnancy. Listen to your body first and foremost.”

Do you incorporate dance into your son life?

“Yes! Music and dance are part of his daily life. He’s also been going with me to teach and choreograph since he was in the womb.”

Alina Silver (Radio City Rockettes)

Deciding to have a child is one of the greatest decisions of a woman’s life, especially when her career is a dancer. What was this decision like for you?

“I always knew I wanted to be a mother. It wasn’t so much a decision as it was a matter of ‘when’. I knew I wanted to have my career first and then start a family. I started dancing professionally in 2003, and have had some amazing experiences — on cruise ships, in a ballet company, in theme parks and music videos, and as a Radio City Rockette. I got married in September of 2015. My husband and I both knew we wanted to have kids. I started my 11th season with the Rockettes that fall. One night, my husband suggested we start trying. I knew in my heart I wanted a child, but I told him there was an audition for a show coming up that I wanted to attend. He replied, ‘Alina, there’s always going to be another audition.’ And I knew he was right. I had never thought of it that way before. In my head, I had to be a dancer first and a mother second. In that moment, I realized it was possible to do and be both.”

Alina Silver with her baby daughter. Photo courtesy of Silver.

Alina Silver with her baby daughter. Photo courtesy of Silver.

Did you dance while you were pregnant?

“Yes! I did the 2015 Radio City Christmas Spectacular pregnant — all 100 shows! It was such a great time. Since it was so early, I didn’t tell anyone. I loved dancing pregnant! After the grueling season, I continued teaching until I reached 36 weeks. I took barre classes, tap class, yoga, and I ran a 5k at 28 weeks. I auditioned for the Rockettes seven-and-a-half months pregnant. That was quite a sight. I had to perform eye-high kicks around my tummy! I will never forget how much fun I had at that audition. I can honestly say I’ve never felt more calm and happy in my body at any other audition.”

How difficult was it to get back into dancing after giving birth?

“I went back to the Rockettes exactly nine weeks after giving birth. It felt so great to move my body in ways I hadn’t been able to for at least six months. I could lie on my stomach again! And twist! But it was hard. I was in tears after the first day of rehearsal. By the end of the day, I couldn’t kick my legs past 90 degrees. I couldn’t even ‘muscle’ it out. I had never experienced my body not responding the way I needed it to. I came home and cried the rest of the night. What was I thinking? Why did I need to come back to work when I should be home with my daughter? What is everyone else thinking about me? All my doubts and mom guilt snuck in. But I showed up to work the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. And little by little, I felt stronger. It was hard, but I knew I was going to be okay by the end of the five-week rehearsal process. By the end of the first week, the girl I stood next to actually turned to me and said, ‘I can tell it’s getting easier for you!’ That made my day.”

Is there added pressure for dancers to get back in shape and on stage after giving birth?

“I definitely felt pressure to get back to my performance weight. I also felt frustrated because I was caught up on one silly pound! I knew I was going to lose it, and by the time we were in dress rehearsal, I was down 10 pounds without changing anything I was already doing. In fact, I ate more because I was breastfeeding my daughter.”

How has being a mother changed who you are as a dancer?

“My heart is just so full. It’s not about me anymore; it’s about her and who I am to her. I’m a lot more gracious with myself. And I’m proud of myself. Every problem in life just seems so much smaller when you have a child.”

What advice would you give to expectant and new mothers, in terms of dancing?

“Listen to your body! Drink a lot of water! Wear a maternity belt! And just know you have very little control over your growing body. I told myself I was going to gain the absolute minimum (I thought 25 pounds was the perfect number), and I ended up gaining 36. And I gave birth to a healthy and very happy baby girl.”

Do you incorporate dance into your daughter’s life?

“Every day! She giggles when I do turns. She likes when I tap dance around her play area. We jump and clap to music. It’s the best!”

By Mary Callahan of Dance Informa.

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