'What would be really useful is a paternity package for freelance dance artists, in fact for freelance contractors, artists, builders to enable us to not feel the pressure to go back to work sooner to earn money.'
Father. Filmmaker, Projection Mapper, Digital Artist, Wayne Sables Project/Fybr
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
One of the most challenging aspects of being a parent in dance was the lack of understanding from the dance sector of what it means to be a parent in terms of the impact on your health, your sleep, your ability to function at unsociable hours and the fact that actually you want to be around more for your partner and your children. The dance sector and wider art sector in general isn’t set up for parents. Having said that it is getting much better and there are some wonderful companies I have worked with that have fantastic parenting policies.
What support did you feel you had from work when your partner was pregnant?
As a self-employed freelancer I don’t really have one place of work so there was no support at all whilst my partner was pregnant. Because I’m the Father (and was not physically carrying our child), it felt very much like it was in non-issue i.e. I didn’t need to take time off work or projects etc. which is really crazy to think about because it was only 12 years ago.
What support did you feel you had on paternity leave?
I had no support whatsoever regarding paternity leave. Basically I took a week off work which meant a week where I wasn’t getting paid. So I really felt the pressure to go back to work early so I could “provide”.
Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?
This is a really difficult question for me because the world has changed massively when we had our children. So, even 10-11 years ago there was less provision in place for Fathers and or expectant Fathers. The challenges that I had with those fell across anybody working in a freelance industry, which is that when I’m not working, I’m not earning - and wasn’t able to claim any for my benefits because I’ve not been out to work long enough etc. What would be really useful is a paternity package for freelance dance artists, in fact for freelance contractors, artists, builders to enable us to not feel the pressure to go back to work sooner to earn money.
In our house we’ve always operated a shared role in parenting our children and we’ve tried to maintain equal responsibility over that. Obviously at times that fluctuates, so when my partner was full-time employed I would take control of doing the school run and preparing meals, and when I was working evenings or weekends my partner would take control of the day-to-day running of the family then.
We worked within the financial situation that we were in at the time and it worked because I got to spend a lot more time with my children when they were young then I may have done if I was in a 9-to-5 job for example. But the constant juggling and having to pay extortionate nursery fees just to be able to go to work and retain that sense of individuality and identity at times was financially really crippling. It shouldn’t be a choice of whether you can work or put your kids in childcare .
Do you think being a dancer/ working in the dance industry made you think differently about your partners pregnancy/recovery?
As a ex dancer I’d like to think I’m still quite in tune with the human body and it’s needs when in recovery, but thinking back on it now I don’t think I gave it much thought. In terms of conscious decision making I think in hindsight we just worked around my partners recovery (she had an emergency C section) so there was a very immediate process that needed to take place.
Writing that down almost makes it sound incredibly flippant , but one of the things I did feel incredibly frustrated by was that I was unable to feed our daughter most of the time because she was on the breast. When I did feed her from a bottle it was quite a challenging experience.
From your experience, what advice would you give to an expectant parent regarding leave?
If you are able to split your parental leave between the both of you I would definitely advocate for that. Those early days of your parents in life are some of the most wonderful, enriching, insightful moments you’ll have for your entire life. Not only is it an important process in terms of bonding, it’s also an important process to give yourself time to adjust to the new situation. You start to get to know your new family and get a new sense of perspective.
What changed most for you on your return to work?
To be totally honest very little change for me going back to work because I’m the Father. Attitudes at the time were that I was expected to work, and especially in the dance well it was expected that my schedule would not change so I would still be available to work evenings, early mornings and weekends. I had to be really specific and say no to a lot of “opportunities’ and put my family before my work.
In hindsight this probably had an impact on me working for other companies, but I was in a transition period to making my own path within dance and the wider arts sector so I took it as an opportunity to move forward with becoming fully self-sufficient and to start coming out on my own career and pathway and take on the work that I could fit around my new parent schedule.
I must point out that a lot of other freelance artist that I was working with (especially those that were already parents) who were incredibly supportive and inclusive of the parental responsibilities in my time. They would let me work less hours and schedule meetings after nursery drop-offs so. I was also very lucky that I was able to readjust my schedule gradually as we had grandparents close.
Does parenting help you in your work?
I’m incredibly lucky that I’ve been able to work as an artist pretty much consistently since I left university in 2001. I’ve made a conscious decision to bring parenting into my work. It’s such a big part of my identity but for me it made sense to incorporate that within my artistic practice. So I’ve done this in terms of making work around being a parent - exploring the challenges and highs and lows. Setting my schedule so that I can be around to do some of the school drop-offs and pick ups, so that I can do parents evenings etc. is a constant planning battle and I don’t always get it right. There are periods where I do miss things and I always have to keep checking myself to make sure that I am being the best parent I can be and I am present as much as possible. Children are such wonderful creative beings they also feed me in my creative pursuits when I’m making work.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
Dancing in general definitely helped me be a better parent because I am able to be much more creative with my children. I’ve been able to take them to work and share much richer cultural experiences that I didn’t necessarily have as a child, so my children are growing up around art, culture and artists and really understand the value they can have on a persons life and how fundamental it is to our growth.
Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?
Honestly no, I don’t know of any specific resources that exist for parents who work within dance but I am aware the organisations are much more adaptable than they used to be. Being a parent working with in the arts is less taboo now as it once was. It’s more accepting and it feels less like we have to make a choice between being a parent and an artist.
Anything else you think would be worth raising?
As my children get older and on a surface level need is less and less, I’m very aware of the times when I wasn’t around when they were younger. That time you can never ever get back, so my advice to expectant parents would be be present as much as they are physically and emotionally possible for them.
Being a parent is such a joyous wonderful experience (that isn’t to say it isn’t without its lows - there are definitely difficult times when you’ve not slept for three days and you’re expected to function at full capacity at work for example) but the highs far out way the lows.
Being a parent has given me a greater understanding and perspective. This means I don’t take myself too seriously, I don’t take the art world to seriously, which is really helped me progress as an artist because it’s freed me up and open me up to new creative challenges, new creative partnerships, and it’s giving me a greater confidence to be able to pick and choose the jobs that I want to do in the arts and collaborators that I want to work with.
More about Wayne
Wayne Sables trained in contemporary dance before moving in to film and digital technologies. He has worked extensively across the USA, Europe and the UK as a dance and digital specialist. Wayne Sables trained in contemporary dance before moving in to film and digital technologies. He has worked extensively across the USA, Europe and the UK as a dance and digital specialist. Wayne has created and curated works for Tour de Yorkshire, Hull City of Culture, National CAT Scheme and numerous museums, arts organisations and councils. He created the first interactive dance film with ManMade Youth Dance company and Autin Dance Theatre in 2019 which has gained national attention, as well as pioneering multiple interactive digital art works and light installations. He is incredibly passionate about engaging communities in high quality arts experiences and empowering audiences.
Interviewed for Father's Day, June 2021