Lee Griffiths, photo credit: Alice Underwood
'How are freelance women suppose to carry on their careers?'
Mother of one. Producer, Botis Seva/Far From The Norm and Artists 4 Artists.
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
For me there are and have been many challenging aspects to being a working parent in dance, my main challenge is trying to remain responsive to what is thrown at me. Its more complicated than before and everything has to be planned as a parent, its not as easy just to respond to artists/organisations wants and needs, especially when they can’t pay or support you with childcare. Yet, they expect your full attention.
Being freelance usually means when I am looking after my son, I am still ‘working’ in some capacity, which results in the occasional email, call. etc whilst I am with him. I feel its not as easy to disconnect from work as it may be for other parents, I am my work and therefore its challenging to switch it off. I am continually trying to find the balance, and that differs depending on my work load at that time and my son’s temperament on the day – quite tricky to pre-empt toddlers!
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?
I had support from my partner, friends and family of course, but less so from the ‘industry’ as such. Looking back, I remember a lot of empty promises from activity partners I was working with about how they would put support in place for when my son arrived and the projects started. With both Botis and I working together and in a relationship, we were now coming to the table as a 3 and organisations needed to consider our family-to-be in the planning stages. Unfortunately, the promises of childcare, on hand support, budget for child support etc. never manifested.
Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?
My pregnancy was quite difficult emotionally for me. I was a dancer working with Far From The Norm and we were working on a commission for a full length show at Laban Theatre. It was a big deal for Botis and the company. Psychologically it was hard to navigate myself in the studio, I was super conscious of carrying another life and for the first 3 months the other dancers didn’t know and spatial awareness/improv tasks etc made me feel very uneasy.
In the end, I felt that I was keeping the company behind, I lost my adventurous side in the studio and wanted to play it safe, so I stopped dancing and continued producing, but now full time. At this stage, it would have been useful to know how other dancers looked after themselves in and out of the studio, what companies put in place to support expectant mothers etc, just any advice from parents in the same situation as me would have been amazing!
Do you think being a dancer made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?
Oh gosh! YES! I assumed being active during my pregnancy that I would just recover and get straight back on stage. Which I did but to the detriment of my health.
Botis and I had planned the first two weeks to just be getting to know this new little person, no work! We had 3 internationally shows pencilled a couple of months after our son was due, we had pushed our availability back, but thought 3 months is manageable. No-one told me this was madness.
I was in rehearsals 3 weeks post partum and I was a mess, I was bleeding/weeing in rehearsals and this was only something I felt I could tell Victoria Shulungu, the only other female in the company. Of course, we both laughed it off, but it was then I realised this may be too much too soon for my body and I wasn’t the warrior women I believed I was.
But the company supported me through it and sure enough with a 5 week old son, I went to Germany, 10 week old to Norway and a 11 week old to Luxembourg but shortly after this I was hospitalised for a couple of days due to fluid on my brain, whether it was a direct result of me pushing to get back into rehearsals and performing, we will never know.
From your experience, what advice would you give to an expectant parent regarding leave?
Take your time. Your career will never be quite the same again, so don’t put any pressure on yourself to return to “normal” too soon. “Normal” doesn’t exist now!
If you were expected to dance postnatal (either by yourself or your employer) how did you approach your recovery?
I took it slow in rehearsals, and physically I was surprised by how much I could do. I remember doing a lot of pelvic floor post partum, brisk walking/light jogging from 3 weeks after giving birth and trying to eat well and sleep as much as I could.
What changed most for you on your return to work?
I remember being really emotional in rehearsals, my son would cry out from his buggy and it would make me think ‘why am I even in rehearsals, he needs me’. I would get quite teary, as I wanted both, I wanted to be that warrior woman who could get back in to rehearsals and on stage but I wanted to be a mum too. Botis, Far From The Norm and I would take it in turns in comforting him but if he wasn’t been looked after by me I was still distracted to see if he is ok, if they are doing what I felt needed to be done. In the end, I felt like I was doing a crap job at both, being a mum and being a professional.
The biggest change was when I decided I wasn’t going to dance any more, it didn’t make sense as a family unit to have two performing parents in the studio. The support in the industry isn’t there for the independent sector, how are freelance women suppose to carry on their careers? I had all these plans of how it would work in the studio, but nothing worked and I realised for my sanity I had to give up on the pressure of trying to make it work. Because it wasn’t working. So my whole career changed. I gave up performing and took on the producing role full time.
Does parenting help you in your work?
I think others would say its made me chill out and not be so uptight when it comes to work. I’ve realised by being a parent, accidents happen that are out of your hands and you have to deal with it, and in my work it’s the same, you can always find a solution.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
I don’t think I can see the effects yet, but I think dance allows our son to be physical, express himself and be around unique energies, that you don’t always meet at your local children’s centre!
Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?
More about Lee
Lee is the creative producer working with Botis Seva and and his hip hop dance theatre company Far From The Norm. Lee joined Far From The Norm in 2013 as a performer and she worked the company until 2017, when she then became
full time creative producer.
Lee is also the creative director and producer of the UK’s first artist led initiative, Artists 4 Artists, established in 2016 to upskill hip hop dance theatre makers and raise the visibility of the sector. Currently, Lee is also the project
director of Street Culture arts organisation CRXSS PLATFXRM, under the artistic direction of Ivan Blackstock.