Sharing our experiences is greatest resource we have.
Here are my first thoughts on being a parent working in dance from my published article written after my eldest child was born.
Dancing A New Routine
Working in a physically demanding industry like dance brings an extra dimension to your pregnancy and parenting experience. It occurred to me pretty early on that these issues were hardly talked about, let alone supported in the formal arena. In fact Dance UK’s pregnancy factsheet was the only formal resource I knew about. I find this slightly odd, as we are an industry that has a strong female emphasis. So here I am, not as an authority by any means, but someone to put some thoughts on paper and share it with you.
Sharing our experiences is the greatest resource we have. I had the privilege to interview colleagues with families (including dancers, choreographers, managers, learning producers and scientists) to capture a little of their experience here – explicitly and anonymously. Hopefully, it will resonate with some, spark some discussions for others and give some ideas for those in our community who are thinking about, or have already got a family and may not have the luxury of being close to a PWID (Parent Working In Dance).
It occurred to me pretty early on that these issues were hardly talked about, let alone supported...
An immediate concern for most is the affect of pregnancy on the body. Here the One Dance UK factsheet is really useful as it gives you reassurance to trust your instincts and adapt movement as you feel is right, as well as following your medical practitioners advice. I continued to teach in the Learning and Participation team at Rambert until 7 weeks before my eldest was born. The company gave me the additional support of a fantastic Teaching Assistant. This was a win-win situation as I was able to mentor her whilst she supported me. On the whole, my colleagues who worked full-time seemed satisfied with the support during their pregnancy with enough flexibility on working responsibilities to make their time comfortable. However, there were varied experiences in the amount of understanding and empathy their colleagues had, and it feels like there could be more support for dance employers in this area. For those who were freelance at this time, they found it easier to set their own schedule, but financially much harder. There is statutory maternity support for both employed and freelance situations, and regardless of economic climate, it isn’t great.
Almost everyone said that being dance-trained led to greater awareness of the changes in the body during pregnancy. For some it was challenging as we are used to having so much control over our body. Rather than worrying about of ‘giving up’ our bodies to pregnancy we have to go with the flow. It seems important to emphasise the individuality of everyone’s experience at this moment, and stay open on the issue of when and whether to return to dance once your baby made his or her appearance. As Lucy Moelwyn–Hughes, Mum of two and Participation Producer at Hofesh Shechter Company so brilliantly put, ‘Make a plan. Then don’t judge yourself when you chuck it out of the window after the baby arrives and you change your mind or reality kicks in…’
Being dance-trained led to greater awareness of the changes in the body during pregnancy
For me, my first birth was fast, but complicated, and it is taking me much longer to recover than I had originally expected. Dr Emma Redding, Mum of two and Head of Dance Science, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance shared, ‘After my c-section, it took 12 months of gradual training before feeling totally back to my performing self. During my second pregnancy, I danced until 5 months and then after the baby was born, I took 18 months to get back to performing.’ In fact for many their body knowledge enabled them to have a better understanding of what activity would support recovery. For Iris Tomlinson, Mum of two and Internationally Recognised Freelance Dance Artist and T’ai Chi Practitioner, her approach was continuing with ‘t’ai chi practice, introducing Pilates and a ballet barre after a couple of months.’
Dads interviewed emphasised the importance of taking as much paternity leave as possible to ensure that the bond between your baby and partner is given the maximum time available. Dads can take up to 26 weeks’ paid Additional Paternity Leave – but only if the mother / co-adopter returns to work. Maria Ryan, single mother of one, and Children & Youth Dance Manager at The Place (Job Share) raised an important question, ‘If more men considered [Additional Paternity Leave] then maybe more women would be CEOs or Directors?’
The biggest challenge was striking the balance between career and family. In our industry the anti-social nature of our working hours creates an increased burden on a family. For many, attending evening performances had reduced dramatically to give way to a new type of routine of the bath and bed variety. For one, the guilt of missing this special time with their children was ‘soul destroying,’ whilst the financial pressure and time-consuming organisation of childcare of this was also noted. With many nurseries closing around 6pm, a Child Minder or Nanny is the only viable option if you don’t have any friends or family living close by. For most people who have pursued a career in dance, many will have left their own parents and will find this a reality – myself included.
If more men considered [Additional Paternity Leave] then maybe more women would be CEOs or Directors? - Maria Ryan
Although it feels that there isn’t a great amount of support, some companies are trailblazing in creating specific policies relating to pre and post-natal matters. Hofesh Shechter Company (who coincidentally became a Dad in 2012) is an example. Lucy Moelwyn–Hughes raised ‘Before the beginning of the current tour, the Technical Production Manager emailed all parents in the company with clear guidelines concerning children on tour outlining where staff were safe to be with children in a venue. The company offers an enhanced maternity and paternity policy, pre and postnatal care within our Health and Well-being Programme and on-going support for mothers to return to work.’
Maria Ryan and Lia Prentaki’s (Mum of two), job share of Children & Youth Dance Manager at The Place seems to be a very practical answer to addressing the balance. For me, catching up with my friend Eleanor Dowling, Mum of one and Founder of Enerjetix helps me enormously to share best practice and ideas on how to manage part-time dance work and parenting.
I am grateful to One Dance UK for giving this topic some column inches. However, there is so much to say that one article isn’t enough. Since sharing our experiences seems to be our best option in the meantime, I have created this site where you will be able to read the full interviews with colleagues who felt able to share, and you too can send in your story to be shared with others.
With thanks to all my contributors including, Eleanor Dowling, Lia Prentaki, Dr Emma Redding, Maria Ryan, Iris Tomlinson and those who wished to remain anonymous.
Written for One Dance UK (formerly Dance UK) March 2014.