Dancers often see motherhood as a completely separate entity from their performance life. The thought of managing a career and parenthood is overwhelming to say the least, not to mention when that career entails using the vessel that will be responsible for carrying and bringing that child into the world. Motherhood often comes with a new body image, different physical capabilities, mental health concerns and a new reality all together that doesn’t often support the grueling demands and expectations that come with being a professional dancer.
On a positive note, motherhood brings an inner strength, a resiliency and a new understanding of life that can impact a dancer greatly, both on and off the dance floor. As a dance/movement therapist and a mother, an entrepreneur and a #girlboss, a recovering perfectionist and overachiever, I choose dance and a career as it made me the person I am today. Here are the ways dance prepared me for motherhood and continues to support my journey through parenthood.
The show must go on.
This is an early lesson all performers learn, and while this can in some way perpetuate burnout and a lack of self-care, I see it as a lesson in adaptability and letting go. Dance has taught me to take the good with the bad, give it my all and pick myself back up when I fall. As a mom, I have to prepare for the unexpected and realize that relinquishing control allows me to be more present and in the moment, soaking up all the nuggets of joy and triumph, while coming to terms with the fact that not everything goes as planned. And while we cannot plan for everything, this thing we call life goes on.
When in doubt, dance it out.
As a parent, there are many opportunities for self-doubt. What dance has taught me is that it is not about avoiding the doubt; it is about embracing it. Movement has allowed me to move through those places of doubt. I find myself on the dance floor and in that moment can trust my ability to express my desires, fears and worries.
“It’s not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” (Vivian Greene)
Before we become parents, we have to endure the nine months of waiting. Dance taught me to be in the moment, and while some moments aren’t the most comfortable (morning sickness and stretch marks, for example), it is not about avoiding them or rushing through them but instead recognizing when things are difficult and finding ways to cope. For it is often moments of pain and discomfort that lead to moments of growth, transformation and healing.
In honor of Mother’s Day, it is important to give a voice to moms touched by dance in our community. Here’s what they had to say when we asked them, “How did dance prepare you for motherhood?”
Nicole Baker, mom of four, professional dancer
“One way for sure is ‘being on my toes’. There is never a dull moment with being a mom. Each day brings a new challenge, actually every second does really. Same with being a dancer and dancing live on stage. You have to be ready for anything and everything.”
Carla Caposieno Cozzi, mom of three, educator
“Your breath guides you from the beginning. You breathe to start the process and breathe when things get tough. Just like in a performance. Balance, strength and creativity are daily challenges, and at the end of the day you are exhaustedly proud.”
E Connor Kelly, mom of two, dance/movement therapist and authentic movement facilitator
“Being creative and playful, since I practiced contact improv. Lots of improvisation means I could roll with flow of unpredictable life with children, and this also contributed to me being a highly hands-on, touch-oriented person. The connection to my body created the passion for natural childbirth (home birth) and breastfeeding to be confident in the organic processes.”
Rachel Wagner-Cantine, mom of one, dance/movement therapist
“Labor and delivery! All of the dance training and body awareness really helped me know how to isolate the muscles needed to push.”
Laura Sáenz, mom of two, teaching artist and researcher
“Beauty, strength, discipline and that it is a continuous process of failing and growth and that you may be very skilled technically, but dance also needs heart and soul – like parenting. Also, no matter how much you know, you always need to show up to class like everybody else and work on it every day. Lastly, that your body is amazing and can do amazing things but also needs to be taken care of and rested.”
Katherine Resseguie Gracer, mom of one, dance studio owner/instructor
“This is more physical then emotional, but I seemed to have an easy/healthy pregnancy. My body responded well after the birth as well. During the pregnancy, I felt so much better after dancing!”
Candy Beers-Kim, mom of one, dance/movement therapist and doctoral student
“I feel like motherhood is a mixture between improvisation and composition theory. There are so many times I need to feel confident improvising and trusting my body where to go next. I also feel, just like good choreography, there needs to be a cohesive and predictable pattern, so my child can feel safe.”
Jeanette Jacques-Mumphrey, mother of two, dance/movement therapist
“When my twins were born, I realized that picking them up and dancing/moving with them to comfort them was as natural as breathing.”
By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, Dance/Movement Therapist, Chicago Dance Therapy.
Erica Hornthal is a licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified dance/movement therapist based in Chicago, IL. She received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago and her BS in Psychology from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Erica is the founder and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy, the premier dance therapy and counseling practice in Chicago, IL. As a body-centered psychotherapist, Erica assists clients of all ages and abilities in harnessing the power of the mind-body connection to create greater awareness and understanding of emotional and mental health. For more, visit www.chicagodancetherapy.com.