GRACE OKEREKE​
'...take the time to be prepared for your return.' 

Mother of one. Freelance Producer. Coming soon: upriserebel.com 

What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?

One of the biggest challenges I find working in the sector in the way I do, is the often blurry line of professional and personal. There are, at times, positive elements to this, especially when you work with wonderful people, who can often become friends – however, when working independently it is hard to switch off. And I don’t mean me switching off from work – but often work switching off from me.  There are always questions that need answering, problems to solve, relationships to manage, deals that need to be done, contracts to draft, funding application always due in, meetings to have and so on.  

 

My son is at child care part time, so in theory I only work part time – however, in reality I work full time and receive messages (including text’s Whatsapps etc), requests and just a demand of my attention from work related matters at least 6 days in the week.  Over the past year I have been teaching myself to ignore them when I am not officially working – but it doesn’t always work out as other people can often see their need as “important” – or give you inconsiderate deadlines of 24 hours for a piece of work for a company who only pay you to work one day a month.

 

Any producer or manager will know these scenarios well, but as a parent it takes time and attention away from your child.  It also means that you are trying to work and parent a toddler at the same time, which can be extremely difficult.  So then you try doing half a day’s work at night once you put your child to bed, but eventually, that wears on you leaving you constantly tired.  The other option is to reduce you work load, meaning you reduce an already inadequate salary.

 

It’s all a challenge, but I try to be solution focused, so am still coming up with ways to find that holy grail that we call “balance”.  

 
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?

I found my pregnancy a little difficult and I think working independently was a saving grace, as to an extent, I was my own boss.  I was able to slow down as I needed and re-construct how I worked accordingly.  By the end of my second trimester, when walking had become difficult, I moved all meetings to cafés on my street or by Skype.  I made all my hospital appointments as I wanted and didn’t have to negotiate with others – I really took things at my own pace.  I don’t think it would have been as easy to do things like this if I had been employed and think I would have either had to take early maternity leave or just quit.

 

Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?

One thing about working independently and going on maternity leave, is that you don’t have the same rights as when you are employed – meaning, you don’t necessarily have a job to come back to.  This is difficult to deal with because you essentially have to job hunt whilst on leave and it is not easy to try and find work with a new baby.  Not just trying to find the time and mental ability to search and write coherent applications, but having that worry about whether you will lose out on work because you have this other commitment that restricts all those unsociable working hours we are expected to do – and just how much we can work in a day.  It feels frustrating and unfair when you are going through it.  Especially when it’s your first child because you really don’t have a clue what your new life of working and parenthood is going to look like, and you just need / want to work with someone that allows you to ease your way back in.

 

Because of this I said to myself if there is a second child, I will have to ensure I work out how my role is covered – but also a clear return date!

 

Do you think being a dancer/ working in the dance industry made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?

Whilst I was pregnant (and on maternity leave) I seriously thought about leaving the industry completely.  I felt the sector had drained me emotionally and couldn’t fathom returning.  It took over 2 years for me to mentally re-enter, so if I decide to go through it all over again, I would definitely ensure that I learn from what I found difficult the first time and try to counter it from happening again. I would try to do so by making a plan with everyone I work with to allow me time off, but also to ease my way back to work over a longer period of time – so I don’t become so overwhelmed with it all, as I did the first time. 

 

From your experience, what advice would you give to an expectant parent regarding leave?

My advice would be to take the time to be prepared for your return.  It can be difficult to think that far ahead, especially if it’s your first child, but the industry can feel pretty brutal at times.  Contrariwise, I would also say take all the time off you can possibly afford and enjoy motherhood.  The world keeps spinning, but the sector doesn’t change that much so it will all still be there, more or less in the same way as when you left it!

f you were expected to dance postnatal (either by yourself or your employer) how did you approach your recovery?

Not applicable 

 

What changed most for you on your return to work?

The biggest thing that changed when I returned back to work was ME.  My life and responsibilities had grown, and priorities revolved around that.  I didn’t tolerate things that I felt where not of value to my progression or finances, or took me away from my child without good reason.  I can’t say I have the perfect balance as there is a juxtaposition of needing to provide an income, but it is at present the mantra that sits within me and the compass that helps guide me.

Does parenting help you in your work?

I can’t say I have noticed any correlation between the two.  I am a lot calmer – less hot headed than I was a few years ago, but a lot of that has to do with the experiences of life as a whole.  I have always been quite patient and calm when dealing with children.  Less so dealing with adults, but I have improved.

 

Does dance help you in your parenting?

I feel that being in the dance / arts industry allows me to take a more rounded approach to how my child learns and what he is exposed to.  I worked within education (in a dance organisation) for several years, so understand the benefits dance and the arts can have in supporting learning and quite simply just as a way to have fun! 

Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?

No

Anything else you think would be worth raising?

Grace has come across an interesting article about parenting in the museum sector that has parallels with dance:

https://hyperallergic.com/497512/parenting-and-labor-in-the-art-world-a-call-to-arms/

More about Grace

Grace has been in the dance industry for over eighteen years, with a career evolving from performer, teacher to manager, with the latter being the predominant role.  Her work has transitioned between an employed and freelance capacity spanning a wide range of activities, predominately on a national, pan-European and international level.  

 

In addition to working with independent companies and artists, she is starting her own touring and producing company that supports Black female choreographers to challenge the structures and hierarchal archetype that is currently in place, and to set a new paradigm for the representative faces of the contemporary dance sector.

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Images: Pari Naderi, Pierre Tappon, Ben Broomfield

Copyright Lucy McCrudden 2018