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NYCB Principals Ashley Bouder, Abi Stafford & Maria Kowroski On Dancing As Moms
Throughout New York City Ballet's almost 70-year history, very few dancers have returned to the stage after having a baby. Yet the company is having something of a baby boom right now, with three principal dancers currently diving into motherhood while upholding their careers. In March, writer Jen Peters sat down with Abi Stafford and her 8-month-old Colin, Maria Kowroski and her 4-month-old Dylan, and an 8-months-pregnant Ashley Bouder to discuss motherhood in the life of a principal dancer.
Jen Peters: What was early pregnancy like, and how did you tell the company?
Ashley Bouder: I was preparing Swan Lake when I found out. I had to tell the costume department, and then I told Peter [Martins]. He had the best reaction, just so happy! I was also getting sick during rehearsal, so I told John Stafford, who was rehearsing me, so we could end early some days or take it easy.
Maria Kowroski: The company was in DC when I was two months pregnant, and, of course, I was performing in a white leotard. My chest was really big and I kept thinking, I hope no one can tell! I kept closing my dressing-room door and taking naps. I finally told Peter because casting was going up and I didn't want to do Concerto Barocco because it's too hard (and in white)!
Abi Stafford: I had to do an extra Dewdrop during Nutcracker the day after Christmas. I was almost thinking I should just tell them so I wouldn't have to. But it was almost time for my three-month checkup, and I wanted to be sure everything was fine before I told anyone.
JP: Did anyone ever assume you weren't coming back to perform?
AB: I think everyone here knows you are coming back, but I've had outside people say, 'Oh, so you're done dancing?'
AS: Or they say, 'Are you going to teach now?'
MK: I'm glad it happens to you guys too. Since I'm old, people always say that!
JP: What's your time frame for postnatal recovery?
MK: I am planning to start back the first week of spring season, so five months after delivery. It's really individual; the company is very supportive.
AS: I had Colin in July and came back for Nutcracker. I scheduled outside gigs to give myself a goal of four months off. I was really grateful to have my first show in Maryland, not New York!
AB: I'm maybe overly ambitious. I'm hoping to take two months. My friends tell me the longer you stay home, the harder it is to go back!
JP: How did you approach class during pregnancy?
MK: I took class until nine months, just barre and a bit of center. I didn't wear my pointe shoes because I was afraid of breaking my ankles, since I was so heavy!
AS: I performed until four months, took class through five months and then stopped. I was afraid to overexert myself, so I just enjoyed some time off. I did absolutely nothing!
AB: I still do everything except jumps, and am hoping to wear my pointe shoes the whole pregnancy. I stopped jumping around six months because Marika Molnar, our director of physical therapy, watched class and didn't like how it looked for my back.
JP: Did you continue with full extensions, too?
AB: Yeah, I can't bend backwards, but my arabesque somehow got better? My hips don't feel any looser, though; my side extension feels tighter!
AS: I never felt any looser either!
JP: How did you deal with the physical changes?
AS: I definitely had some body-image issues. I didn't really accept what was happening to my body until about six months. Afterward my doctor said to be patient and trust that everything will go back.
MK: It was hard not being able to fit into costumes. Watching the scale go up at the doctor's office was strange. But as long as the baby is healthy, that's what matters.
JP: What did you do to get back in shape?
MK: I started with Gyrotonic, to get everything strong again, and bike and elliptical for cardio.
JP: Any pregnancy cravings?
MK: I ate healthier than normal, a lot of salmon and eggs for protein. Towards the end I really lost it, though—all I wanted was chocolate and cheese.
AS: Me too. Towards the end I'd get Frosties and McFlurries. And white chocolate!
AB: I was the opposite. Right away I only wanted sweets. I would have a pint of ice cream for dinner while performing Swan Lake! It was ridiculous. Now all I want are big salads and Mexican food.
JP: Coffee during pregnancy?
JP: How do you find balance between work and baby?
MK: I'll start with sporadic performances. Things are happening quickly—sitting up, rolling over—and I don't want to miss out.
AB: I'm excited to have my fiancé bring her to the theater during performance nights. She can hang out with all the girls backstage.
[Maria looks at Dylan lying on his stomach in a frog position.]
MK: Ahhh, he has great turnout…bad feet, but great turnout! That's okay, we don't want you to dance, anyway!
JP: I was going to ask how you feel about your kids dancing…
AB: My fiancé already said, 'No stretching the baby!'
AS: He'll only dance if he asks and shows interest.
AB: It's difficult to have a child want to dance, because we've made it to the top of our field. I would never want her to feel inferior to her mom, who at that point will not be cool!
JP: Do you think being a dancer helped with labor/delivery?
MK: I don't think it helped at all! It is such a normal thing that every woman's body can do, and I realize how truly amazing our bodies are. This pain was like nothing I ever experienced as a dancer. I did labor standing up and in second-position grand plié trying to get him to come down!
AS: During labor Colin wasn't dropping, so they almost did a C-section. But with all my core strength, I said 'Get down!' My doctor couldn't believe I actually birthed him that way. After going through childbirth I feel like I can do anything onstage.
JP: Is anything about childcare surprising you?
MK: The amount of time breast-feeding requires. I was in tears a lot that first month because I felt like I couldn't go anywhere.
AS: The first two weeks were the most difficult because you just aren't sleeping. But the hardest thing was giving myself over completely. It was quite an adjustment.
JP: How did you decide this was the right time to become a mother?
AB: I'm 32, and I wanted to come back and still be at the peak of my career.
Just before this issue went to print, Bouder gave birth to Violet Storm de Florio. Kyle Froman
AS: For my husband and I, it was our plan to have a baby around this age—I'm 33—so it was mostly the clock-is-ticking thing.
MK: I wondered what my body would be like after having a baby: What if I can't dance as well? What if things don't work the way they did before? I wanted to feel completely fulfilled before having a baby.
JP: In NYCB history, few dancers have had babies and come back to perform, and now all three of you, all principals…Do you feel like something is changing?
AB: Definitely. People are going to college and doing more outside projects. People have realized you don't have to be a tunnel-vision ballerina—you can be just as dedicated and as good an artist with more going on in your life.
MK: If not better!
AB: I remember Margaret Tracey being phenomenal after two babies!
AS: And Kyra Nichols, too, Jenny Ringer, Jennie Somogyi…
JP: What do you think the difference is?
MK: It's a different mentality. For me, this [holding Dylan] is such a huge priority and a happiness you can't get from anything else.
AS: Maybe the dancing pressure is off a bit because you realize what real stress is!
AB: But you can also really enjoy your time being free and dancing, free of all that responsibility while doing something you love, and then go home to someone that you love.
MK: I feel like such a pedestrian still. I have a new appreciation for what we do as dancers. It will be unbelievable to get back to that level, because it feels so far away! I will truly appreciate being onstage and having that escape from everything. It will be my time. In the end we still are our own people, even as mothers.
Jen Peters is a contributor to Dance Magazine, a dancer and a mother of two in Brooklyn, New York.
Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she'd been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.
But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica's history.
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
Ever wonder why some dancers' port de bras appears to be disconnected from their body? It typically comes down to how they stabilize their shoulder blades, says Marimba Gold-Watts, Pilates instructor to dancers like Robert Fairchild.
"Dancers often hear the cue to pull down on their latissimus,"—the biggest muscle in the back—"which doesn't allow the shoulder blades to lie flat," she says. "It makes the bottom tips of the shoulder blades wing, or flare out, off the rib cage."
Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.