All images of Stopgap Dance Company in FROCK by Chris Parkes
'...make sure you know the possibilities around your work and maternity/paternity leave so you can make the best decisions for you.'
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
I find managing and juggling my time the most challenging part of being in dance as a parent. I struggle finding the right balance between time for my family and time for dance. It’s my biggest challenge being a dancer and teacher, having all the commitments that go with it like- long days, long commutes, travelling away on tour, staying in shape, having the time to plan and doing a job that isn’t 9-5 in the 9-5 slot! I want to do all the above whilst still giving 100% energy, support and love to my daughter and wife. I feel like sometimes I manage my life well and then other times I don’t… I’m still learning. Ideally I’d like to be close to home, working in dance but still having enough quality time with my family. I believe it’s achievable through selecting the right jobs for me (emotionally, geographically, work-load) but it takes compromise and trial and error.
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?
I felt I had a lot of support from my employed work at University of Chichester (UoC) and all my teaching and producing work. However, as a freelance dancer on mostly project based work there’s only a small amount of security you can feel and a BIG amount of worry. When I was pregnant I was involved in lots of outdoor work which was too dangerous to be doing whilst pregnant. I had to let my ego and self-ambition go and support the rehearsal process and the new dancers learning my role. This was bitter sweet for me as I desperately wanted the work and choreographers I had invested in to be successful, but I was sad to not end what I had started. When I returned to dance after giving birth these jobs were over and I began to wonder- would I get any more work as a new mum? Luckily these feelings were unfounded and I was able to restart my career in my new life. My body felt far away from the dancing body I knew (I could not recognise let alone connect with my centre!) so I had to get to know the new me, and nurture myself back to fitness patiently. However the anxiety, panic and self doubt felt very real and when also fuelled by the hormones that were charging round my body it was often difficult to believe a return to dance could be possible.
Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?
I’m not sure what more could be done with our current climate of funding and freelance work? Could the Arts Council further support small companies in their engagement of pregnant/ new mothers?
Do you think being a dancer/ working in the dance industry made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?
Yes! Very differently! I was pregnant at the same time as some of my other friends who can take up to a year off with their jobs and for most of that time period they have some income coming in. With my freelance work I was only eligible for statutory pay. I had to take all my “keeping in touch days” (time allowed to work whilst receiving statutory pay) after 4 months of leave, therefore I was back to part-time work after 4 months. This wasn’t terrible but looking back now I wish it could have been longer. Also working practically in dance I was only just starting to find confidence in my dancing self by 4 months, I was still breast feeding and therefore my body was locked into nurture mode, whereas I needed it to get up and go and earn income! I started to feel more secure in my dancing body around 3 months. I would have continued to breast feed longer if I could, but my milk went around 6 months due to a hormone deficiency and therefore I experienced this changing “climate” in my body as I was dancing throughout this change. Overall, I felt resistance from my body to dancing in this time and I wanted to listen to it but I felt external pressure from the industry and internal pressure from my own ambition. Looking back and knowing what I know now I would have liked to have given myself a little more time – I would do that differently if we have another baby.
From your experience, what advice would you give to an expectant parent regarding leave?
I would say make sure you know the possibilities around your work and maternity/paternity leave so you can make the best decisions for you. I would also say if possible try not to feel too pressured to go back until you’re ready! That is different for every parent and the pressure you feel may be from yourself…it was for me! I was really worried about “losing the connections” I’d worked hard for before pregnancy. Now in hindsight I feel those connections would have been there a few months later and if they weren’t, there would have been others - that’s the positive thing about an ever-changing project based industry.
If you were expected to dance postnatal (either by yourself or your employer) how did you approach your recovery?
I was very keen to start moving after birth… quite soon actually as I felt I’d really missed it and the pregnant body I didn’t feel was “me”. I absolutely loved carrying my daughter, feeling her was incredible… it’s just I had been so used to being athletic before pregnancy it then felt shocking to not be so agile. But the body is an amazing thing and I feel more myself than ever now with my beautiful daughter by my side. So I did lots of walking with the pram and a little gentle yoga. I did try to take it slower and I noticed massive changes, I had no doubt that my body needed time to recover, What I had been through was huge. Also fitting in exercise becomes more challenging than ever before- your relationship with time has been turned upside down.
I think after having a baby (which is an amazing experience to see your body go through) I was surprised at the rush of gratitude I had for my now recovering body … It sounds so cheesy but I was just really grateful to be back dancing again.
What changed most for you on your return to work?
Coming back to work my priorities have changed the most. It goes without saying if my baby is ill I need to be there for her and for me to know she is ok. Therefore some days I have unexpected changes which can’t be helped. Before I had a baby if I was ill I would still go into rehearsal whereas if my little girl is unwell I must leave work or my wife has to and there isn’t a plan B. So in all that I believe it helps to put perspective in place, however that does bring with it new challenges and compromises. I am lucky to work with very understanding employers and a very supportive partner but it’s a clear difference in a cast that have dancers / artists without children and dancers with children.
Does parenting help you in your work?
Yes, parenting helps because I find myself with a better skill set to deal with many things. Parenting also gives so many positives. I’m a ‘fuller’ person and therefore feel confident in ways I didn’t before. I have a different perspective and I am “lighter” about feeling the importance of dance.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
Yes, I think dance helps my parenting in lots of ways, many practical reasons – I’m energetic and creative with my daughter and we roll around together on the floor. My wife and I are always happy to jump around and love to see our daughter exposed to lots of art forms as she develops. Being in the arts provides a mixed friendship and social group which we also like for our daughter to have.
Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?
No… it seems that more things are happening now and Dance Mama is great! - I wish I’d known about the stories when I was expecting.
More about KJ
KJ is currently performing with Stopgap Dance Company in FROCK and with Commotion Dance in Will & When. She has also danced for choreographers: Akram Khan, Lîla Dance, Flexer and Sandiland, James Wilton, Jorge Crecis, Tim Casson, Katie Green, GlassHouse Dance and Balbir Singh. KJ also loves to teach and be involved in community projects. She is an associate lecturer at the University of Chichester (since 2014), is regularly commissioned to choreographer for Instep Dance Company (Kent) and is leader of Retrospectif Dance company (over 50’s The Point). KJ is also a producer as the Agent for Dance Excellence at The Point, Eastleigh.
You can also read even more about KJ's experience as a #dancemama on the Stopgap Dance Company site.
Also, checkout Stopgap Dance Company's online, inclusive contemporary dance classes, Replay, in the #dancemama online class programme collection by hitting the button below.