JULIET DIENER​
'I truly began to understand what it felt like for all the parents I had worked with over the years and it helped me to be more thoughtful, more patient and kinder to each family’s struggle.

Mother of Two. Founder and CEO, icandance

TW: @icandanceuk

IG: @icandanceuk/@Juliet_diener

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

Making time to work on my own body. As a Dance Movement psychotherapist and dancer I use my body as a tool for engaging with the process of creating and relating. Whilst I may use my body to guide my work I never have enough time to focus on my own body as there are always higher priorities like the children once the work has been completed. As CEO I find myself sitting more and more in meetings and in front of screens and movement/dance can sometimes feel lost. I make it a priority with my team to check-in with our bodies before we begin any thinking and this immediately helps us to get our heads and our bodies into the right place. However, there is never enough time in the day to do that just for me without interruptions. 

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

Well I was my own boss, so I made the decisions about what support was available. Which is great in that I could prioritise my needs but a negative in that as the founder of a growing organisation your company is your ‘other child’. My charity is my family and, like my actual children, requires a great deal of time, nurturing and hard work. There is never a switch off button, and this was evident when I was pregnant. Whilst I managed to get cover for me during crucial times of facilitating sessions I remained directly engaged with the running of the organisation and managing the team. I don’t think I have ever actually experienced maternity leave.

 

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

By the time I had my second pregnancy my charity had progressed enough for me to have better support in place whilst I still managed all aspects of the administration and leading it. I wasn’t directly involved in the delivery for a short space of time. However, when things are still developing and you’re passionate about your work, you have to think creatively how to manage parenting and leading an organisation. One of my memories is breastfeeding my 3-month-old baby pre-show, during interval and after the bow whilst leading my company in our annual performance at a theatre in London. It may seem slightly crazy but it was my norm, and I could manage it and it worked. Family has always been a crucial element of what I do and icandance is about offering a community for the disabled dancers and their families as well as my family and my team. I created icandance to allow myself to be a working dancing mom and that my family was part of what I created and they truly are! Both my children have performed as part of our integrated Youth Company, and in our annual performance last year all 3 of us were on stage celebrating dance and difference with my husband cheering from the stalls. 

 

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

Dancers are notoriously hard working and tough. I think my ‘can do’ approach has very much stemmed from my years of rigorous training that led me to never give up and to always believe more is possible. I loved dancing through my pregnancy and loved the community feel it created as my disabled dancers celebrated in the joy of a new member of our community. My pregnancy brought excitement and new beginnings for the charity and my children both love to dance today. I believe its because they danced with me in my belly, so dance and icandance has become integral to our family story. My children love meeting the dancers and helping out at events. 

 

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

Planning is helpful and having open conversations with employers. It is important to remember that many plans can be made prior to a baby being born but you never know what unplanned situations may arise from the birth. I have also been super organised and love to plan. Having children has taught me that not everything can be planned and sometimes we have to sit with not knowing and respond as life unfolds. So, I suggest plan but be open to change; flexible to what life may offer. 

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

I was teaching dance so everything was manageable and I approached my work gently, listening to my body.

 

What changed most for you on your return to work?

Everything changed. Shortly after my first child’s birth she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis which is a life limiting chronic lung disease. Three years later when her brother was born he was diagnosed with the same condition. Each time we received the news it was devastating, and our world was turned upside down. I changed seats from being the professional working with families to the parent sitting across from the professional. Continuing to manage a growing organisation was challenging when coping with my own personal struggles. There were/are many a time I travel from the hospital to work with my special dancers and return at the end of day back to the hospital to be with one of my children. For a few years I designed and led our annual performance from the side of a hospital bed being discharged a few days prior to the show. No longer do I find myself breastfeeding during intervals but now administering lifesaving IV’s for my children, who receive constant medical treatment which I manage and administer in between schedules. I truly began to understand what it felt like for all the parents I had worked with over the years and it helped me to be more thoughtful, more patient and kinder to each family’s struggle. Working with the families at icandance has made me more grateful for my challenges as I often reflect on how heavy their load is in comparison to mine. My children have learnt to do the same as they often reflect gratitude when walking away from icandance for their life and the opportunities offered.  

Does parenting help you in your work?

Absolutely! I feel it makes me more relatable to the families and not just another professional that they know. Some of the families are aware also of my children’s illness and so I think they see me as one of them. I do feel more like one of them now than I have ever been and feel its important to never lose the humanity in our professional relationships. 

 

Does dance help you in your parenting?

Definitely! Dance is the way we connect, share stories and create new ones as a family. My home is filled with music and dance and my children are intrinsically part of my charity. I have always seen it as a family business, and it really is as I actively find opportunities for my children to be involved. Dance has taught me a language that isn’t spoken, and I find this helpful when connecting with my children, when thinking about their bodies and what they suffer. Dance led me to find Dance Movement Psychotherapy which has given me the strength and the tools to hold myself, to hold my children and to sensitively, thoughtfully and intuitively hold my organisation. 

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

Not specifically. 

 

Anything else you think would be worth raising?

I believe dance brings communities together and I have witnessed this as I have shaped icandance and what it offers the families of dancers and team members. Dance for all abilities is powerful to witness and I feel privileged to be part of the journey of the special families I have met along the way. Each one of them has moved and shaped my world for the better. 

More about Juliet

Juliet is a qualified Dance Movement Psychotherapist, Cecchetti Ballet teacher and Special Educational Needs teacher.

Believing in the power of dance and its ability to offer those with disabilities a voice, Juliet founded icandance. A London based charity which offers a creative, therapeutic community which celebrates disabled dancers. 

 

Juliet lectures, trains, and supervises for Universities, professional dance companies and other dance organisations such as Goldsmiths, BalletBoyz and the ISTD alongside her private practice offering clinical supervision and therapy.  

 

Juliet leads and directs a team of over 40 dance specialists to share inclusive practice in schools, communities, and arts organisations. 

Images: Pari Naderi, Pierre Tappon, Ben Broomfield

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