Mother of two. CEO Greenwich Dance, Former Producer for Protein Dance, and freelance consultant specialising in children and young people’s dance with companies such as DanceEast, Greenwich Dance, Sadler’s Wells
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
I’m not sure there’s a distinction for me between working in dance and just working as I don’t physically dance anymore so I don’t have to worry about that side of things. The juggle is trying to give both your child (and husband) and your work equal amounts of your time and dedication and I always find that if I’m doing one...whether it be working or looking after my son…its best not to be thinking about the other. That is easier said than done though…
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?
I wasn’t working when I was pregnant, at least not for much of it. My contract came to an end around March time and my son wasn’t due until July (though he popped into the world three weeks earlier in late June) and so I hadn’t quite got my head into believing I was going to be a mum and found that period difficult. Up until then work had ‘defined’ me and suddenly I was without work but still a bit of a way from having a newborn in my arms. I applied for the job at Hofesh Shechter Company (HSC) when I was 8 months pregnant, a bizarre thing to do but I was just so excited about the job and completely unprepared for what was about to happen to me in becoming a mum. I did the interview three days after my son was born, was offered the job and started part time from home a few months later… after I’d squeezed in a performing job at the Royal Opera House. Mental.
Do you think being a dancer made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?
Your relationship with your body is important as a dancer I think and I was confident that it would see me ok through the birth, which it did thankfully. But I’m not sure if its because I was (once) a dancer or just because I'm hard-headed, that I still believed I could do everything I used to do. I had a huge pressure on me to get fit again….my costume fitting for the opera was hilarious as wardrobe were used to waif thin ballet dancers not mums with flabby tums so there was much huffing about how my costume would have to be altered. I ran with my son in the pushchair to get back in shape and saw a pilates teacher on a one to one basis but it was rehearsal boot camp…tons and tons of yoga then rehearsals, that started to get me somewhere close to the pre-pregnancy body I had. I joked I would have to do it again next time around but next time around wasn’t that straight forward and I had to learn the hard way to take it easy on myself and my body.
From your experience, what advice would you give to an expectant parent regarding leave?
I would never start work so early again. I don’t mean the opera...I would do that again if I thought I physically could (but I don’t!). It was a bit of mad craziness and huge fun (my mum sat in the café with my son so I could breastfeed in my breaks and I pumped for England to make sure he had milk on evenings when I was working and my husband had sole childcare duties).
I mean my deskjob.
I thought I could work for HSC from home while my son slept but it was really hard. I would try and take phone calls while he was playing on his mat which would end in him screaming and me apologising to a bemused person on the other end, feeling unprofessional and a bad mother all at the same time. I only did two half days a week but it was still too much and it meant I couldn’t focus one hundred percent on those magical times with your firstborn.
What changed most for you on your return to work?
When I went back to work officially (part time, two days a week) my son was just over six months old and was in nursery. It felt really young to be leaving him at the time but in retrospect it was a good thing, for him anyway, as he adjusted really well and has always been very easy going with other people and has always loved nursery. What changed for me, apart from missing him so much, was that I had to start prioritising. I couldn’t let a days work drag out until 10pm anymore. I had to be on the 17.20 train or else I'd be late for pick up, so I would just go. It meant I stopped taking lunch breaks and just got as productive as I could in a given day.
I loved working at HSC but stopped just after I lost a baby at 24 weeks. I just wasn’t in the right place to continue working in that way. It was then that I started to think about how I could combine work with looking after my son and any other children we might eventually have, that I dreamed up the Offspringers idea. This was classes at first, but is now simply a website designed to share dance and movement ideas with other parents. I combine that with freelancing, which is working for me at the moment.
Does parenting help you in your work?
I can't imagine not being one now, so yes I think it does, especially when working as I do in education with children and young people. I have a much better understanding of how recreational activities fit in with a child's day and even though my son is still young, I can start to better imagine how things like pre-vocational training would start to make demands on family life. I'm quite opinionated about what I would allow my son to go through...I was in tears watching a programme about children in musical theatre as I empathised with them being away from their parents through rehearsals, or not being chosen for the first night…or being chosen for the first night and that horrendous pressure they would be under. I vowed I’d never put my son through all that.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
It's where my idea for my company Offspringers was born, using dance as a tool for creative play. I try and find as many creative things as I can to do with my son which often involve dance.
More about Melanie
Melanie Precious is Producer at Protein Dance and trained as a dancer and went on dance professionally with the Royal Opera House, English National Opera and Matthew Bourne’s Adventures in Motion Pictures amongst others. In 2006 she joined the education department at Sadler’s Wells and in 2010, combined this with a position as Director of Recreational and Prevocational Dance at The Place. Following the birth of her first baby Melanie joined Hofesh Shechter Dance Company as Participation Producer but soon realised a freelance career might suit her best. Melanie is helping parents and carers to utilise dance as tool for play via her Offspringers website and blog with freelance engagements specialising in children and young people’s dance and artist development with companies such as DanceEast, Greenwich Dance and Sadler’s Wells .