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Dancing Through Motherhood at The Royal Opera House

Sunday 17 March, this McCrudden certainly had the luck of St Patrick’s day as I had the privilege of leading two session at the Royal Opera House as part of their Wonder Woman themed family Sunday. ‘What’s one of those?’ I hear you cry. Each month the Royal Opera House opens up its doors and fills their bright and beautiful new foyer and other sumptuous spaces with music and dance activities for all the family. 

Using the caped crusader as a term for all the super-women who have contributed to the organisation and ballet and opera as we know it is very apt. As I checked in to the artists desk (that was my first of many treats) I was greeted by the friendly archive team who had a table of photographs and information on some of these important women from the past including Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of The Royal Ballet and the legend that is Margot Fonteyn who has her centenary this year. I’m acutely aware of the prominent women who have come before us and built the foundations of the dance industry as we know it. The enormous barriers they overcame to lay those stones for the time they lived in is certainly built of superhero muster. 

Odette's tutu from 'Swan Lake' on display at The Royal Opera House

Back to the present, and for me the day was like being in my own personal X-men film.  Gush warning!  Wonder Women du jour, Ruby Wolk (Ballet Learning and Participation Manager) is there to meet me. Ruby is also a #dancemama and has programmed the day, which from the schedule in front of me, is chocked full with a huge array of things to do, taking into consideration the needs of the participants and create an atmosphere to feel inspired by.

The needs of the families was expertly well thought out

Next #dancemama to arrive is the electric Bim Malcolmson (Independent Dance Artist) who will be leading the creative tasks in our session. We head through Paul Hamlyn hall to run into Don #dancemama - choreographer Kate Flatt who will be joining our session a little later. Kate has been commissioned to create Sleeping Beauty en promenade for the event with a boutique cast includes #dancemama and former Soloist of the Royal Ballet, Laura McCulloch. In a flash, Brun Hilda and the Ugly Sisters suddenly appear who are around for the day. It is fabulous to see the costumes up close and the fine detail. Just behind them I see a dressing up rack next to tables of craft where you can decorate a paper ballerina overlooking the mighty Paul Hamlyn hall. Looking down, a dance floor has been put up – soon to be filled with dance workshops, music recitals and a DJ. 

After a quick catch up in the staff canteen, #musicmama pianist Frances Yonge arrives closely followed our ballerina #dancemama s featuring in our session, First Artists of The Royal Ballet, Nathalie Harrison and Tara Bhavnani. Tara recently went viral with her timelapsed video (below) of her pregnancy pirouette and has developed a huge collection of vlogs and films about being a parent in dance as Brigitte Ballet which are definitely worth a watch.

Both Tara and Nathalie have brought their families with them, a fantastic demonstration of the inclusivity we are aiming for, so we move into the Clore Studio. There’s a storytelling session just coming to an end ahead of our slot and it is busy! The storyteller is wonderfully animated (with a gorgeous singing voice) who is leading some very engaged children and their parents through Hansel and Gretelwith live piano. At the end of their session, they get their stamps for taking part on their trail booklets and we head into the space. 

The session starts with all of the team sitting on bean bags on the floor with participants. I welcome everyone and state with pride that all the delivery team are mothers. Both sessions followed the same structure. I kicked-off leading a discussion with Tara and Nathalie about the physiological and psychological factors in being a mother and a dancer, and the impact this life stage has on their artistry. I encouraged the participants to ask questions to Tara, who’s very sweet daughter was keen to get in on the action, whilst Nathalie hugged her toddler between her knees, resting on the bump of baby number two due in a couple of months.

I shan’t paraphrase the answers here as both the artists are due to be joining Dance Mama’s case studies shortly, but we covered a lot of hot topics including; coping body changes in class, rehearsal and on stage, childcare and support, dialogue between dancer and rehearsal directors, choreographers and senior management, and the fantastic health suite facilities that the Opera House can support pregnant dancers with where a range of different fitness methods are on offer (Pilates, gyrotonics) under the caring eyes of the company health team. 

In the second session, Kate was able to join us in between performances, and gave a brief overview of her experience choreographing Les Misérables when both her children were under 5. I am complete awe of how she achieved this in 1985, making the decision to take on the project when her youngest child was only 11 weeks old. I look forward to enlightening you on more of this story in future! Nathalie brilliantly commented that it was thanks to trailblazers like Kate for really creating powerful role models for today’s parents in the industry.

the potent combination of our collective two passions – dance and family

Naturally, Bim was brought into this conversation as freelance #dancemama of two where there are a myriad of similarities and parallels in experience. Following our discussion and after listening attentively to Tara and Nathalie’s answers I gave a word I heard to Bim for her to expertly take into creative dance tasks. Bim has a industry-renowned ability to bring people together through diverse backgrounds through dance and was able to get the whole room moving together both ‘symbiotically’ and in an ‘empowered’ way. Supported by the wonderful improvised music from Frances, the whole group explored different levels, shapes, travelling and creating group tableaus which connected everyone from very young toddlers, to parents and to the professionals themselves. It was magical!

Participants could upcycle pointe shoes at craft stations

At the end of each session, the on-the-ball support team brought out a box of pointe shoes and sharpies. Here, we invited participants to decorate a shoe with a word that had meaning to them which summed up their experience as a momento of the session and their visit.

This was definitely a career-highlight day and a great milestone for Dance Mama. I am hugely grateful for the opportunity that Ruby gave all of us to share these experiences and then turn them immediately into the potent combination of our collective two passions – dance and family.

Just another regular Sunday at work

Other related articles worth a read on the Royal Opera House Site:

NEXT EVENT: I am next live, leading a session on Building A Portfolio Career’ for dance professionals at Greenwich Dance on Tuesday 23 April 2019. This is open to any dance professional and is particularly useful for anyone who is a parent with the added plate of family to juggle. Click here for more information and to book tickets:

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