'Having a baby made me acutely aware of how lucky I’ve been all my life to be dancing regularly.'
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
I think for me it is a question of time – balancing the time I spend working with the time I spend with my children (or rather not balancing it!) – and managing my expectations of myself.
I want to make sure that I spend as much quality time as possible with my children and do my absolute best to be a good parent. I’ve also spent a long time developing a portfolio of work and a company that I’ve nurtured, that feels really precious to me (I didn’t realise fully until I had children that my company is also like a child I’m raising!) and is such an important part of who I am and how I express myself in this world. Effectively, these 2 things are both full-time jobs, and I think that’s a good way of describing how things feel at the moment, and my greatest challenge – trying to accommodate 2 full-time jobs alongside each other. It’s difficult (and can take me several hours) even to know where to begin, and somehow I then end up feeling like I’m not being very good in either of these roles! This is particularly challenging at the moment when, because Ben is not at all a good sleeper, I’m sleep deprived already and am then trying to meet work deadlines for a complex project on top of that. I think this is the same for all parents no matter whether they work in dance or not, but running a small company like mine does increase the pressure to have to get things done no matter what, because no-one else is going to do it.
I think it’s really important that Emily and Ben are a part of what I do and see how I work and how hard I work, so I have brought them with me on tour (I’ve been so lucky that my family have been able to support me to do that over the past 4 years, because when I’m on tour in caves or in museums for example, we work too quickly and intensively, and often in unusual conditions, for me to have a baby with me, even in the carrier) or in the rehearsal studio or meetings where I can. Often I have had to do this out of necessity e.g. when breast-feeding in the first year or when I haven’t been able to find alternative childcare because things sometimes come up at very short notice in this line of work. However at times I have also had to recognise the limitations (for me) of that. Although I have done full days of rehearsal with a little one in the room, with them in a corner surrounded by toys, or in the baby carrier, this is hard for me, as it definitely splits my focus, and as soon as they started to crawl I found this much harder although I know other people make this work.
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?
On the whole I have felt very supported in the instances when I’ve been working for another organisation whilst pregnant and also while I’ve been working with a young baby in tow. When I was pregnant the first time I have to admit to being surprised at the lengths to which some people went to ensure I could still be involved. People were really kind, and made accommodations wherever possible e.g. covering costs of assistants for my teaching, or expenses for my family to travel with me.
I think in terms of putting in place support structures to ensure my own company could continue while I was on maternity leave, I would have benefited from having (and having the money to be able to afford):
more producer time
more administrative support
more rehearsal director time
I had very unrealistic expectations of how quickly I would be doing things again, and remember taking Emily to a performance at 2 weeks old, which turned out to be the same day she started cluster feeding (feeding in half an hour chunks, with only a short break in between feeds, from about 7-11pm), so after watching 1 performance and giving some notes I basically just sat in the green room all night. It was exhausting, so much pressure to have put myself under, and so much unnecessary guilt. I think after that day I did start to give myself more of a break, but it is hard when you’re used to (out of necessity) such a DIY approach with your work, being in control of everything and not having the money to employ people to properly support you.
I was able to claim the very basic level of maternity allowance after having both my children, which wasn’t a great deal of money but was something. When I had Ben I was able to take shared parental leave with my husband, meaning I gave up some of my maternity leave payments, and then because my husband was in a salaried role he was able to take a certain number of months of leave with full pay. This was really incredible, knowing the children were being looked after so well by their Dad while I was working, and the opportunity it gave him to spend proper time with them.
Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?
It’s tricky to plan for forthcoming projects when you’re unsure whether you might be pregnant in however many months or have very small children when you undertake those projects because applying for funding is so challenging anyway – it’s competitive, so it’s unpredictable, and in my experience my budget always ends up being so stretched that even the thought of adding in extra budget lines for childcare seems improbable.
I’m just going to mention briefly, because it was a big part of my story and I do think it’s something that still isn’t spoken about in spite of how common it is, that I suffered from multiple miscarriages, and this had a big impact on how I approached my pregnancies mentally, and meant that I never really wanted to admit to myself that in the timeline of a project I was planning I might be pregnant and would therefore need to cover additional costs e.g. additional accommodation costs or car hire so we could travel around with the children and also all the kit. I am an organised, relatively practical person, but my experience really knocked my feeling of ‘invincibility’, or the feeling that I was in control of everything and could plan for anything. So if I was giving advice to someone else, I’d definitely say that if it was even on the cards, if it was possible to add some contingency into a future project budget for childcare costs, you should do it.
I think that if it doesn’t already exist it would be great to have a clear set of guidelines somewhere about what childcare costs to include in project budgets and at what rate perhaps? The existence of any guidance and normalising the thought to include this in itself would be helpful psychologically I think. Although I think things have changed even in the short time since I was pregnant in terms of there being more of a movement to raising awareness about life as a parent in the arts and campaigning for support including through Dance Mama, Mothers Who Make and Parents in Performing Arts.
Do you think being a dancer/ working in the dance industry made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?
I was more physical in both pregnancies than I might otherwise have been I think, which in the beginning of each pregnancy was hard because I suffered from bad morning sickness for 26 weeks with Emily and 19 weeks with Ben, but towards the end was actually really helpful. In the December before Ben was born in the February, I attended a week long residency led by Danielle Teale, and found that doing a dance warm-up and physical workshops was actually really rejuvenating at that point when I was feeling quite sore in my lower back and hip flexors for example.
I wanted to get back to my pre-pregnancy capacity perhaps more quickly than I otherwise might have done, and this is one of the reasons I found it really hard when it was missed that Ben was breech, so it was too late for him to be turned with an ECV procedure which had such a huge impact on the kind of recovery I had and my rate of recovery.
Pregnancy and my physical and mental recovery after pregnancy have, as I’ve already mentioned, really altered the feeling of invincibility I realised in retrospect that I had always had about my body and myself, including high expectations about my capacity to keep up a really high pace and high expectations of myself in terms of my work and running a small company. I always knew that I was a driven person, and felt that to be a necessity working in the dance industry because it can be so competitive, and I’ve always felt I had to work really hard to secure opportunities and also to sustain the momentum of what I was doing so people would take me seriously and consider coming to me with more opportunities. But in recovering from pregnancy (although I wasn’t necessarily very good at it!) I did just have to allow things to happen at their own pace and allow myself the time I needed. Even acknowledging this, I still tried to do a lot very early on, and I am quite seriously considering taking the maternity leave I didn’t feel like I took at some point in the future, maybe when Ben and Emily are both at school!
From your experience, what advice would you give to an expectant parent regarding leave?
Make a plan, and then be kind to yourself when your plan has to change. If you can have some back-up plans in mind, that might also be helpful.
If you’re in my situation where you primarily work for yourself/your own company, do recruit someone you trust to keep an eye on things while you’re on maternity leave if you can, even if they’re just dipping in to urgent emails or they’re happy to be listed on your out of office message as an alternate contact. Both times I have had a baby, I have wished to have more of this support (the first time I worked with a rehearsal director and a producer, the second time with 2 producers for 2 projects on which I was working, and actually now as a parent I still wish I could have more of that kind of support!).
I did a week-long project with Casson and Friends when Emily was 3 months old, started touring again when Emily was about 5 months old, but then was only working in relatively short bursts until she was about 10 months. With Ben, I was on tour when he was 3 months old and because of touring the caves project while trying to get things started with the Mayflower 400 project, I felt like my pace of work ramped up a lot more quickly the second time round.
Both times, my situation was total madness! Using this opportunity to give my perspective, although everyone’s experience will be completely different, I would say that, if you can, give yourself as long as possible for your leave and actually use it for time getting to know your little one (which I still spent plenty of time doing) rest (whenever you can with a newborn – I did not get lots of this!) and recovery. Because otherwise you spend your whole time while the kiddies are young just trying to catch up (and if you don’t have a ‘good sleeper’, as Ben is most definitely not, you will regret even more not sleeping whenever you had the opportunity).
If you were expected to dance postnatal (either by yourself or your employer) how did you approach your recovery?
As I’ve mentioned, it was only after having a baby that I really fully appreciated the support that I was used to in my body and I did want to take care not to rush my recovery (even though I did a lot of rushing everything else!). In particular I wanted to note here about resting properly after having a c-section. I mentioned that Ben was delivered by elective Caesarean section because my community midwife missed the fact that he was breech until very late in my pregnancy, even though I had a hunch that was the case, which I should in retrospect have been more vocal about. I left hospital a bit too soon after he was delivered really, although I was very glad to be home, but then once home I was diligent about following medical advice, not driving, not lifting in the early stages and then only building up to things gradually. This was very hard for me, and quite a few mums I’ve spoken to have admitted to lifting for example before being signed off by their doctor at 6 weeks but I would really recommend doing what you’re told in that respect! With Emily I was up and about and having at least 1 walk a day with the pram from the very early stages of being a new mum. With Ben, I really had to take this easy, and not push myself too far too fast, although as soon as I could I enjoyed getting out whenever possible.
Having a baby made me acutely aware of how lucky I’ve been all my life to be dancing regularly, and therefore maintaining my core support. 3 months after having Emily I was due to be dancing for Tim Casson on his Selling Secrets project, so with this goal in mind I invested in some one-on-one sessions on the reformer with the brilliant Elena Fulton, who really looked after me. What was great was that I was able to bring Emily with me, and even when she was crawling round this worked well for me, and I felt stronger and supported by Elena.
The second time round, I haven’t been able to do this again due to a much more stretched schedule so I attend a weekly Pilates class and yoga whenever I can. I try to integrate Ben into this as much as possible – so we attend Mum and baby yoga classes for example, and sometimes (rarely) I get the mat out at home and both Ben and Emily enjoy rolling around with me.
I wanted to also mention here about the really positive impact craniosacral therapy had on me after I had Emily.
What changed most for you on your return to work?
The whole project-managing/multi-tasking/trying to be resilient in the face of challenges/problem-solving nature of my work just became more complicated!
As I’ve said, I consider myself to be a very organised person, but the sheer amount of planning to coordinate rehearsals/meetings/workshops and so on with various forms of childcare and the needs of 2 small people is a huge change.
The extent to which I can work flexibly has changed. To some extent I do set my own work schedule as director of my own company, and this can be very helpful at times, but once I have set the schedule (for a year in advance, and often more), I am less able now to accommodate changing plans, so if people miss/ask to rearrange meetings at short notice or if dancers change availability after we’ve set a schedule, this has a much greater impact than it used to have. I try to work with this – everyone with whom I collaborate is also a freelancer trying to juggle a complex schedule and I want to be sensitive to this – but it is harder now.
My working hours have changed, although I have a genuine ambition to try to claw my time back over the coming year – now I often work into the early hours of the morning, because particularly when Emily stopped napping during the day and when Ben doesn’t nap when I expect him to (which is all the time), I started having to work more anti-socially again to get everything done.
Does parenting help you in your work?
think in terms of shifting my priorities, making me realise what’s important and managing my expectations of myself, parenting has probably helped me in my work, in terms of my overall attitude, and recognising when I have to say 'no' to things for example.
I also think I make better/more considered choices about what I take on – particularly while my children are really young, I want anything that takes me away from them to be something I really want to do, that aligns with my priorities. I do find it hard to say 'no' to things, but since becoming a parent I think I’m better at recommending other people for work that comes my way if I don’t feel it’s something I can take on.
I think sometimes being a parent means I’m better at managing workload and cutting right through to what’s most important, out of necessity because of only having shorter blocks of time available to achieve things, particularly in the early days when the kiddies’ naps are unpredictable. However, at busy times (which at the moment feels like all the time!) I still try and do everything, regardless of how it is affecting my well-being. So I do have much more to learn about finding a balance.
What is tricky is that there’s a lot in this line of work which is necessary to the smooth-running of a project which I really would rather not be doing, or don’t feel I really have the skills to be doing, but I have to do because I don’t have the resources to get help with those things (I do have help whenever I can from brilliant producers Claire Morton and Kate McStraw). Things like fundraising in particular is really hard because it takes so much time to put together an application and then there’s a real likelihood of that being wasted time, if the application isn’t successful. That happened to me a lot during the time I’ve been pregnant with Ben and shortly after he was born when I had to submit large applications for funding that were written when I should have been preparing myself or on maternity leave.
I find Emily and Ben very inspiring e.g. in watching their physical development and the way they respond to the world around them. I’m exceedingly proud of every single thing they do, it immediately obliterates any sense of annoyance, it’s quite amazing that capacity to forget a tantrum or a sleepless night if they smile, or say a word for the first time or ask a really great question! I think that helps me in my work and not just because often I’m working for a younger audience or an audience of children and families – there’s something about that curiosity about every single thing in the world that serves as a healthy reminder of what it is to be human, trying to make sense of everything.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
I suppose it does, as much as drawing your children into any passion you might have would hopefully rub off on them.
As much as juggling the two can be exhausting, having dance as part of my life means we always have music on in the house, we’re always physical, we read stories and make up stories and so on. I try to take Ben and Emily to see things whenever I can and they’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the UK to be with me to see performances in unusual spaces, which means they think it’s totally normal!
But I think these are all things that lots of parents would do anyway, it isn’t just because of what I do that we have a home life like this.
Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?
As I’ve mentioned, I do know about the Dance Mama, Mothers Who Make and PIPA communities and some of the work they do.
I wanted to also say here that I find just being in contact with other parents who work in dance in my day to day life to be a wonderful resource, in terms of being able to meet up for play dates and talk about things, and feeling supported by being involved in an informal network in that way.
Although not specifically a resource for dancers, I would also recommend new parents-to-be to look into NCT classes in their area and any other opportunities like this.
Anything else you think would be worth raising?
I think one of the key things that I wanted to cover in talking about my pregnancy/parenthood experience was about breastfeeding, because how I found ways to manage this was essential to my going back to work. I was lucky as I was starting to get back into work that I could express milk quite easily, and that both Emily and Ben took my milk from a bottle, from another person, which I’ve now realised is not a given. I think in preparing to have a baby it is useful to talk to people about their experiences of feeding and to ask questions, because there are a lot of logistics, and things that I didn’t know beforehand (some of which it felt like I was being deliberately ‘sheltered’ from in the breastfeeding workshop I did attend, although I’m sure that’s not always the case) e.g. about not everyone being able to express, or some people having milk that cannot be stored and given to their baby.
I think being open to different options for feeding your little one is very helpful, but also be clear on your reasons for why you want to do a particular thing, whatever that is, because with all their best intentions there are lots of people who will look after you in your early stages of having a baby who will give you lots of different (often conflicting) advice about feeding, and you just can’t predict what will happen, so it’s helpful to have some ideas about how to navigate it in advance. Without intending to be, because of the information I’d been given and how breastfeeding had been depicted I was really clueless about this. I assumed, because it’s the version of things that is most usually projected when you’re a new mum, that Emily would just feed, it would be the most natural thing in the world and actually it was really hard and it wasn’t until one particular midwife came along and told me that it was okay to be finding things difficult, and gave me some strategies for coping with challenges, that I actually felt able to move forward.
Trying to keep up with breastfeeding, particularly getting back to work relatively early, was challenging, and I had to learn to be disciplined about taking regular breaks during a day e.g. on tour to express, particularly in the early days. Having said this, on complex rehearsal/performance days, my body’s schedule did not necessarily coordinate with the rehearsal schedule e.g. in the early days of adapting my work for Cheddar Gorge and at Stump Cross Caverns for example, there were some hilarious instances of expressing underground, sometimes whilst running through notes, just to try to stay on top of my milk flow – oh how patient the dancers were with me at those times!
If you want to breast-feed and get back to work, I would say it’s worth investing in a good pump and looking after it properly so it doesn’t let you down. Also depending on a situation, check ahead to make sure there is somewhere for you to express if it isn’t obvious that there will be – I didn’t mind feeding in public but expressing in public made me feel more vulnerable if anything, although I have done it. There are lots of little things like this that you become aware of as you go along that I just had no clue about in advance.
It was important to me to be honest in answering these questions, as there were so many things I was not really ready for, even at the very practical level, which I did want to share here. However, most importantly, I wanted to say that being a Mum is completely awesome. It is really hard, but there is so much joy in it too! Perhaps that’s why it’s so brilliant, because you feel so indescribably deeply for these tiny humans, you’re 100% completely all-in in terms of your relationship with them, so although the lows can sometimes be low, the highs are just incredible.
More about Katie
After reading English at Cambridge University, I graduated from London Contemporary Dance School in 2006 and formed my dance company Made By Katie Green in the same year.
I specialise in creating site-adaptive dance work which tells the story of the human experience through time. Since 2013 I have worked with more than 40 museums/heritage sites across the UK, including with my Imagination Museum and Dancing in Caves projects, also creating new work for the British Museum, Ipswich Museum and Dulwich Picture Gallery for example. Current projects include my Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 programme and creation of a new piece for libraries.