'...it’s all about changing a mindset, not looking at what you cant do, but looking at what you can do.'
Mother of two. Creative Producer and Freelance Dance Artist, Farnham Maltings and Freelance
including current production Dance in the Meadows
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
Juggling, juggling and more juggling... As a dance artist whether you are choreographing, teaching, performing or managing dance programmes we all need that extra inspiration, something to feed our artistic voices – seeing a dance show, taking part in a dance class, meeting other dancers…. I can’t do that as much anymore – in fact it’s very rare nowadays as its mainly unsociable hours and I am a single parent of two girls. I use to watch a professional dance show at least 2 – 3 times a month and take part in professional dance classes two or three times a week and I can’t do that anymore – the cost of dance classes and a babysitter just makes it so difficult. I suppose one of the plus sides to not being able to see a show so often is that when I do - it’s a very special experience – like I’m seeing dance for the first time again. Perhaps before it just became so regular it lost that special edge somehow.
Saying no. Dance is in my blood and so I am a yes person – of course I can get my leg higher, of course I can get across the stage in two jetes, I have a can-do attitude - nothing is insurmountable…. Not being able to do everything has been a hard thing to accept, to not be at that rehearsal or oversee that project. But in all of this I have found a very refreshing (and fun!) balance between work, play and girls. Moving to a new area two years ago and starting a new school for my eldest has brought along with it an amazing group of friends and support network so much so that I’ve found myself on my own (childless and workless!) in a hot yoga studio thanks to these friends... But, admittedly, being more active, being in a studio and feeling those gorgeous aches and pains I use to get a lot, makes me miss it even more – but I have to accept that while I may not be able to do it all – I can still do it – but just perhaps a bit differently in this chapter of my life.
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?
I was pregnant with both of my girls when I was the Dance Education Manager for Swindon Dance and I had lots of support. Part of my role was to teach and choreograph every day to ages 8 – 18 years old. For both pregnancies I continued teaching right up until 9 months. That was my choice – if I needed to stop my employer would have supported me but I felt physically able and fit enough to do and I still loved it. I took part in professional dance classes too during both pregnancies – I just couldn’t jump as high towards the end!
I took my first born with me to many of my work events – she got to go back stage and be looked after by the dancers while I staged managed the shows out the front, she got to watch rehearsals and so many dance shows both professional and youth – she’s quite the culture vulture now. Both children when they were in my tummy got to tour across the South West and be my side kick at so many dance festivals and high profile events.
Just these last two weeks I have had to take my girls to my dance rehearsal in the evening – that’s not possible for everyone and I wouldn’t cross the boundaries of being unprofessional – but they are well behaved girls and more often than not they join in. I think they are both very lucky to have had this opportunity. My current employer is very supportive so on the times when I haven’t managed to get child care they come to work and watch the shows. This week they are watching a technical rehearsal of a piece created by New Adventures – it’s doesn’t get better than that! I work with young people who will enter their adult lives and would have never stepped foot in a professional theatre or dance studio and here are my two aged 6 and 3 years and they have been to countless shows. It's important for me to ration this though – as they may get complacent – plus they may think that mummy’s work is all fun and not hard work at all...then I will be in trouble!
Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?
Perhaps someone to tell me its ok not to do everything – it comes back to that acceptance thing – that things have changed as you have one or two or three little people – but we all get that whether we are in dance or not? I suppose now what I would appreciate more than anything in my work place is perhaps a fitness class, or something that can be done in work time / lunch time so you can continue your artistry and not have it hindered by the inability to get to a dance class in the evening as you have your children. But that’s very much from a single person’s perspective because I can’t do that if I wanted. But again, it’s all about changing a mindset, not looking at what you cant do, but looking at what you can do with the situation you have so I am setting up some teaching that will fit around me and my work / life balance.
Do you think being a dancer/ working in the dance industry made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?
Yes absolutely – you understand your body, what its capabilities are, its limits and when it needs rest. You understand weight distribution, so the bigger the belly got, the taller you stood and pulled up! You also have this unspoken internal strength – muscle and mind – and both came into play when I was pregnant and in my recovery. After my first baby I was physically fit, went straight back to work and teaching after four months – I didn’t feel much different (I just had match sticks in my eyes to keep them open!). I had a C-Section with my second baby and I remember waking up afterwards and panicking that I couldn’t move very well, that I couldn’t stand up or walk. I’m not one for sitting still so it did come as a bit of a shock – but I was pretty mobile and even the health visitor commented on this and I certainly attribute it to being a dancer / or training as a dancer as I was physically fit. One month after I had her I performed on stage for a very special event. That was mind over muscle definitely. I made the choice to do it no one forced me...its was my heart leading my head…perhaps not the best idea, but I love performing.
Now 3 years on from the last birth all I know is that things just feel a little different. I haven’t trained as much at all, in fact hardly ever but I’ve started teaching again and I may adapt things here and there until I get my dance strength back up.
From your experience, what advice would you give to an expectant parent regarding leave?
Wow, this is hard, its all hindsight isn’t it but I would say just enjoy the now, each day and what it brings you. But unfortunately, circumstances don’t always allow a mother to have a lengthy maternity leave, especially if you are freelance and that was the case for me. I wouldn’t change what I did as I got the best of both worlds in some way. Although I admit with my first baby, being away from her and working full time was tough. I use to literally run home from work and miss near fatal accidents just to squeeze her and bath her. But my boss at the time was incredible – she told me on a couple of occasions to just stay at home and enjoy my baby for an extra hour that day and work it off another time. In dance you work so much overtime that it was justified. I suppose therefore what I would advise is be honest with someone at work if you just need that extra hour with your baby because you want to see them have their first taste of cucumber or you just want one last cuddle!
I had a bit longer with my second baby and I freelanced before going full time again. But again, my balance has had to shift again as it was hard to work a full-time job with my two little ladies in tow. Now I work sort of part time – 30ish hours a week and I am ok with that. A friend of mine said to me only recently, they are only young once, enjoy them. We have all heard that before, we all say it to other people but I really took this in and I am glad that I have had to scale back my hours – it doesn’t mean that I am achieving any less – in fact I am probably achieving more – just in a very different way. I have time to jump back into a contemporary class – years ahead of me – age isn’t a number to so while I approach the big 40 I look forward to dancing across the next 40 years!
If you were expected to dance postnatal (either by yourself or your employer) how did you approach your recovery?
I wasn’t expected to at all – I was supported if I wanted to but not expected. It was gentle steps back into it – again it goes back to the mind and I suppose heart – it’s having that acceptance that your body may want to do things it can’t at that moment and understanding that in time it will. It's understanding that in some cases women have had very serious surgery – especially in my case with the C-section. I didn’t even consider it to be an operation at all until someone just mentioned it in passing – so why would I expect my knee to flex straight away if I had just broken it? It needs time to heal and time to strengthen. It’s the same principles.
What changed most for you on your return to work?
Ha I can juggle more things at once than I thought humanly possible – but one of the hardest things to juggle can be yours or your children’s emotions. If you drop them off to childcare and they are screaming for you and you have to walk away – there isn’t a moment in the day you don’t wonder if they are ok. Deep down you know they are, but it can really sit with you. And returning to work – my emotions hit me very hard with my first baby and I didn’t address these at the time. I wasn’t confident enough to be open about this and accept that it was ok to feel emotional.
I do think now I work smarter not harder... it doesn’t mean I don’t work hard, I just have less time so I need to prioritise, time manage and be decisive. The excitement towards the end of the day or the end of the workshop when you collect your bags and go home to see your babies – being mummy...the difference though is actually your down time, rest, mental extraction from work – it doesn’t always happen as you have little people to be with and help. Maybe work has taken on a new meaning. It isn't a thing I did for me anymore – it’s for me and my two girls. In the dance industry dance is your life, so to compartmentalise it as ‘work’ and ‘mummy’ which is sometimes defined by hours is still a challenge for me.
Does parenting help you in your work?
Yes I make better coffees at work…..they are hot! Yes my work is a lot of negotiating; contracts, fees, partners, young people, artists and funders and my children test my negotiation skills to the max. My jobs over the last 12 years have always entailed delivering multi-layered and complex projects that brings together people from all walks of life, so I feel I understand how to work with people and get the best out of them as I often think about how I would like a person in my role to approach my children now or in the future.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
Ha yes. In my roles as a teacher and dance manager and producer I troubleshoot a lot and I troubleshoot a lot at home when Barbie doesn’t want to play with her unicorn horse (obviously I mean one sister doesn’t want to play with the other). Especially as a teacher you learn so many ways of approaching a situation...I give my girls creative solutions to a problem, allow them to think and find their answers. I also understand that my two children are two very different souls and how they understand and learn things or approach a situation – one is a kinaesthetic learner and likes to be physically shown something and the other is an audio learner who wants me to talk her through everything– so I understand how my ‘teaching’ strategies’ can help the outcome of the Barbie debacle! When I use to teach 30 boys aged 7 – 10 years I developed the most effective behavioural strategies, and these come into play at home all the time.
Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?
I don't know any at all.
More about Emma
Emma trained professionally at Northern School of Contemporary Dance and has over 20 years experience in the industry as a performer, teacher, choreographer, education manager and producer for numerous companies and organisations.
She is currently a freelance dance artist in Surrey and Creative Producer for Farnham Maltings. Her specialisms include training and developing young dancers and dance practitioners, producing and project managing large scale dance events and festivals across England.