TRACY WITNEY

With my first pregnancy I think I would have found it really helpful to have had someone else within a dance career that I could have spoken to.

Mother of two. Head of Learning & Participation at Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?

The juggling of work, personal commitments and the feeling of guilt, which never goes away! My children are now 9 and 12 and I have seen them through nursery, primary and now into secondary school whilst developing my own career from Education Manager at Phoenix Dance Theatre to Head of Learning & Participation at Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD). My work hours have always included evenings and weekends and this can be hard when you miss bedtimes, special events or just extra family time. I do rely heavily on my husband especially in the summer term when we have weekend auditions and shows, having a supportive partner, family or friends is imperative.

 

What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?

Both my experiences were positive, with my oldest son I worked with Phoenix Dance Theatre and they were very supportive in helping me to reduce the hours of teaching and touring activity when the pregnancy tiredness hit. With my second son I had started working at NSCD and did not have the touring work to contend with and my teaching work again reduced when I felt I could not work to my best capacity. In both situations after having my children I had my ‘keep in touch’ days which helped me feel connected, appreciated and took me out of my baby bubble.

 

Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?

With my first pregnancy I think I would have found it really helpful to have had someone else within a dance career that I could have spoken to, I talked to lots of other mums of course but none of them had physical careers that they would be returning to. It did knock my confidence when I first started teaching (post baby) as my body felt different, my core wasn’t as strong and with sleepless nights added into the mix my strength and concentration did fluctuate. 

With my second son I had taken on a higher level strategic role so this became more about passing on information. I had great staff within my team that I felt confident leaving work to spend time with both my children without the fear of waking in the middle of the night (or day) worrying that I had forgotten an important funding date!

 

Do you think being a dancer made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?

I think I was far more aware of how my body felt and at some points overly concerned about how it would affect me in the long term. I have hypermobility and suffered in my second pregnancy with pelvic issues. Going from being quite active to struggling to walk was very hard to deal with especially as I also had a 3 year old running around as well.

I spoke to many of my friends (non-dancers) about post birth recovery and realised that as a dancer / teacher I was putting myself under unnecessary pressure, I worried that I would not be able to do my job in the same way and this did have a negative effect of my mental health and confidence.  

 

If you were expected to dance postnatal (either by yourself or your employer) how did you approach your recovery?

Coming back to teaching after both my children filled me with equal excitement and dread, as I mentioned earlier I didn’t feel as confident that my body was going to be able to do what it had previously been capable of. For this reason during my postnatal maternity leave I did try and exercise regularly with my children in toe with jogging/pramercise and Pilates. Both Phoenix and NSCD were supportive and allowed me to take time to build back my dance/teaching capacity and supported my decisions in both cases to come back part time (30 hours a week)

 

What changed most for you on your return to work?

I think my priorities, with dance we sometimes feel like we are privileged because our passion is our career and it feels wrong to say no. I found that really hard when I first had both my children to not attend every performance I was invited to. I also reduced my workload outside of my regular jobs as I had been a board member for a couple of local schools as dance specialist, but time became more precious and something had to give. 

 

Does parenting help you in your work?

Definitely, my negotiation skills and ability to deal with conflict have improved immensely, along with time keeping and organising my work with military precision. As my children are getting older those negotiation skills are definitely put to the test.

 

Does dance help you in your parenting?

I think I am overzealous with being creative about homework, so I think my sons would probably have something to say about that. But my project management skills do come in handy when trying to organise after school clubs and weekend activities.

 

Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?

No

  

Any other thoughts?

I think understanding that being a parent is always changing and the issues I faced when my children were small are very different to the ones I face now. I don’t think the endless juggling will ever dissipate and having work colleagues that understand and support you is priceless. 

I would stress that behind this working Mama is an extremely proactive, patient and understanding husband! (who does not work in the arts)

 

More about Tracy

Tracy gained her BA Honours Degree in Dance at Bretton Hall College, Leeds University. She worked as a freelance dancer, teacher and choreographer on varying projects across the UK. In 2000 she decided to follow her passion of teaching full time and became the Education Officer then Manger for Phoenix Dance Theatre. She worked with Phoenix for 8 years under the artistic direction of Thea Nerrisa Barnes, Darshan Singh Bhuller and Javier De Frutos, her work included delivery & management of the company’s outreach programme, youth dance company and education resources.

In 2008 she joined Northern School of Contemporary Dance as Head of Learning and Participation. Since joining NSCD Tracy has expanded the Centre for Advanced Training, instigated new youth programmes and established our boys only youth company with partner organisations. She is on a number of networks across the UK as a passionate advocate for dance, which includes Co – Chair of the Children & Young Peoples Dance Network North.

Images: Pari Naderi, Pierre Tappon, Ben Broomfield

Copyright Lucy McCrudden 2018