I have met far too many female dancers who have retired from dance because they were unable to meet the needs of parenting and also continue their career as performers. Hopefully the tides are beginning to change.
Mother of one. Freelance Choreographer, Movement Director and Performer.
Current productions include; Equus a co-production with Theatre Royal Stratford East and English Touring Theatre (ETT), Cougar a co-production with The Orange Tree Theatre and ETT, Apologia English theatre Frankfurt
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
By far the most challenging aspect is arranging my schedule to successfully fulfil the demands of my work life while also being able to assist and be present in helping with my little one’s “work” schedule..
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?
As a freelance artist at the time I was fortunate to be on stage in a West End show, (The Lion King). They were extremely supportive and I could not have asked for a better environment to have been in during that time.
Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?
Having had previous experience with other cast members being pregnant they were fully equipped with all the knowledge and means to handle my pregnancy in an ideal way.
Do you think being a dancer made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?
Absolutely. During my pregnancy I was very aware of keeping in as good a physical condition as I could with the mind set of having a speedy recovery. Fortunately for me my pregnancy allowed me to continue performing on stage up to two weeks before my child’s birth and paired with swimming and Pilates I was able to keep in excellent form. All the years of training ingrained in me a need to maintain my fitness, so definitely working in the dance industry made me approach my pregnancy and recovery somewhat differently to perhaps others not in this industry.
If you were expected to dance postnatal (either by yourself or your employer) how did you approach your recovery?
I wasn’t expected to start back working immediately so didn’t have that pressure of meeting expectations. I took a good chunk of time off and went back into teaching first which gave me valuable insight as to where I was both physically and mentally as a performer post-baby.
What changed most for you on your return to work?
I actually decided to go freelance. Again it was figuring out how to juggle the responsibilities of parenthood with the desire to be a part of the professional world again. It wasn’t an easy terrain to navigate initially but I somehow made it through to the opposite side. Dancer’s Career Development helped me during that time by facilitating conversations for a few months with the fabulous Isabel Mortimer as part of one of their programmes. She was brilliant and really helped me through that shaky time.
Does parenting help you in your work?
I think as a parent you exercise another side of your brain which I think does inform and cross into your practice. I think as parents, when we go out into the working world, we have an increased level and understanding of patience which I believe to be an asset in any field.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
I believe it does. The dichotomy of it being such a strict discipline, but it also being such a liberating and freeing art form definitely filters through into my parenting style. I try to be as open as I can be nurturing creativity while also drawing the line when it needs to be drawn.
Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?
For parents of dance specifically I am not completely sure. But the aforementioned DCD works wonders for dancers transitioning into new territories and phases of their life.
Any other thoughts?
It’s not easy for anyone becoming a parent. It brings a whole new set of challenges but also insight too. I have met far too many female dancers who have retired from dance because they were unable to meet the needs of parenting and also continue their career as performers. Hopefully the tides are beginning to change.
More about Shelley
I was born and raised in Jamaica where I did much of my dance training in addition to studying in Cuba. I started out professionally in the world of contemporary dance as a dancer and then soon moved into teaching and choreography. I have now transitioned into the broader world of theatre where I work as a movement director and choreographer for plays and theatrical productions.
Recent productions include:
Nine Night for the National Theatre at The Trafalgar Studios
Tartuffe for the RSC at The Swan Theatre
Antony and Cleopatra at The National Theatre
Twelfth Night at The National Theatre