Mother of twins. Artistic Director, General Manager and Choreographer, Foolish Operations, Vancouver, Canada
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
I am constantly under pressure – work life balance is very hard. I often have to miss out on fun family activities to make a deadline..
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?
Because my pregnancy was considered 'at risk' (twins) I took a preventative leave from work for the entire pregnancy. It was great to have time to rest – but nothing could really have prepared me for what was going to happen. My partner was of great support, as well as all of our family. I was able to take on two participatory projects during the pregnancy and it was just the right amount of work. Because my work is mostly on the creation side of things, and because I manage all my works, I can decide the scope and schedule – mostly… In Canada, we have a government funded public program for employment insurance that covers up to one year of parental leave at a percentage of your salary - which can be taken by either of the parents – except for the first weeks which are reserved for the birth mother. In my case, because I took a preventative leave, all my insurance was used up for that. My partner was able to take 6 months off once the twins were born, it was great.
Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?
More conversation around artist-parents!
Do you think being a dancer/ working in the dance industry made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?
Dancers have so much to contribute in improving post-partum care! Dancers could really improve the science and care around pelvic floor recovery, diastasis and post-partum depression. Finding the sense of our own bodies is so important to fight depression. But of course, it’s been so long – 9 years. When I was in the thick of it I did what I could.
From your experience, what advice would you give to an expectant parent regarding leave?
Learn to value your time in small minute increments – the joyful ones with your children, your close ones, and the time you have to touch base with your practice. Have a good check-in with yourself and your support network, ask yourself what is your tripod: the 3 most important things in order to be well. Take training – as a woman from the dance milieu, I did not grow up identifying my needs and feelings – which made it so much more confusing in assessing my priorities. If you are a dance maker like me, think of your processes in longer time frames with flexible and supportive collaborators..
If you were expected to dance postnatal (either by yourself or your employer) how did you approach your recovery?
None – taking care of two babies at the same time was a full-on experience for me and my partner living no time to think it through. Even after 9 years, I can’t say I’m fully recovered. After the first 2 years of little but no sleep, my focus has been to make sure we all got lots of sleep! Then I was able to work on getting back in shape. My priority was to keep in touch with my dance making self and developing my participatory practice, which was a gentle choice for my body. .
What changed most for you on your return to work?
It’s been such a journey. Canada doesn’t have a national daycare program. In Vancouver, where I live, caregiving can cost parents more than university tuition, which is also very expensive… Did I mention our inflated real estate market? With twins – we were not able to afford caregiving expenses. I was able to slowly increase contract-based work as they grew older and started school. For the first time of my life, at age 42, I am now working entirely for myself – Foolish Operations – with no other admin side jobs. Still, it is not very stable. .
Does parenting help you in your work?
Yes!! I started an improvisation practice towards performance for babies, toddlers and children (0-5yrs) and their adults – Very young dancers are just the best improvisers, I am learning so much. It was very important, from the very beginning of my daughters’ lives that they knew me in whole – as a mother, as an artist, as someone committed to growing community.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
Yes!! The practice of connecting to my body, my centre, my breath adds this very healthy delay between stimulus and response so that I can make a better decision on how to proceed when my buttons are pushed. I am hoping that I am modelling this so that my daughters have good tools to respond to tricky situations
Do you know of any other resources that exist for parents in dance?
In 2015, I was supported by the Vancouver Park Board to reflect on my practice as an artist-mother in the form of a conference called Embody (in my body). This conference is entirely documented on video and can be found here:
We discussed the theme of the artist-mother as an oxymoron, as explored by the visual artist Elizabeth Mackenzie http://www.elizabeth-mackenzie.com/about. She has compiled these incredible resources: http://blogs.eciad.ca/elizabethmackenzie/?page_id=6401and this: http://blogs.eciad.ca/elizabethmackenzie/?page_id=6513
We discussed my approach in Dancing the Parenting within the Reggio Emilia philosophy for early years education.
We invited Patricia Reedy of the Luna Dance Institute in Berlkeley California to talk about dance in the early years and the importance of relationship-based dancing.
Anything else you think would be worth raising?
All this journey propelled a desire to make immersive work for the very young. I am currently touring Paper Playground and hoping to come to the UK in 2020 or 2021.
More about Julie
Julie Lebel is a Vancouver based choreographer invested in community engaged dance and in interactions between public space and community - involving musicians, visual artists, film makers and writers. Her immersive and participatory touring works are: Tricoter [Knitting] a short form for unusual performance spaces and Paper Playground, for the 5yrs old and under. Julie leads Dancing the Parenting an ongoing improvisation and performance practice for children of 0-5yrs with their adults as well as many community engaged projects with various level of trauma informed practice, for people of all ages and on various demographic spectrums.