Pitter-Patter in the Studio
5 Dancers on Balancing Motherhood and Career
Miami City Ballet principal Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg had a clear vision of how things would go when she and her husband, fellow MCB principal Carlos Miguel Guerra, decided to have a baby. Then she passed her due date by two weeks and had an unplanned cesarean section. “I had to take off longer than expected and couldn’t do any physical activity other than walking for eight weeks,” says the mom of Eva, now 1. “I was devastated. I had this whole plan in mind and it got shot down.”
Right: Tania Isaac, with Eve, on the barre, and Naomi, underneath the barre, in the dance studios of Drexel University. By Jonas Gustavsson, Courtesy Isaac.
In a way Kronenberg’s delivery mirrors the experience of having children as a professional dancer: You can never really predict or be prepared for how your life will change. Yet more and more dancers are choosing parenthood and continuing to perform or choreograph. The key, these artists say, is embracing the ups and downs and learning to adapt. In doing so, they’ve found their lives enriched not only by the presence of their children but also by a fuller, more rewarding career.
The first challenge of having a baby as a dancer is deciding when. Heather Olson, a New York City choreographer and veteran member of Tere O’Connor Dance, admits she worried about taking time off, since a dancer’s professional life can be brief. “I had a feeling I was at a really good place in my career and nervous about cutting that moment short,” she says.
Kronenberg can relate. “Timing when to have a child is difficult because you know it’s going to put a big pause in your career,” she says. “And every season has some role you want to do.”
Left: PNB's Kaori Nakamura, backstage with Maya, during Jean-Christophe Maillot's Roméo et Juliette. Photo courtesy Nakamura.
Olson found a way to diffuse her anxiety through dance. Just before giving birth to her daughter, Lake, 2, she presented her first solo show, and the piece centered on her mounting apprehensions. “I felt like I was about to travel into an abyss of the unknown, and the whole creative project became about that,” she says. “It gave me an outlet for my fears and also a feeling of strength—if I was able to make an evening-length piece and perform it while seven months pregnant, I would be able to figure it out afterwards.”
Such determination comes naturally to many dancers. Take Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Kaori Nakamura. She always knew she wanted to be a mom but assumed she’d wait until she retired. “But when I turned 40 I realized I still want to dance and I still can dance, but at the same time 40 is getting old to have a baby,” Nakamura says. “So that’s when I decided I’ll have a baby and then come back.” And three months after her daughter, Maya, now 2, was born she performed the grand pas de deux from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The decision to have a baby can be even more daunting for freelance artists, especially when things don’t go as planned. Tania Isaac, a dancer/choreographer and assistant teaching professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, had to cancel a tour with Rennie Harris because she was so sick while pregnant with her first daughter, Naomi, 9, and was bedridden for eight months with her second, Eve, 2.
Right: Lori Yuill shares the studio with Lola. Photo by Emily Marcel Theys.
Houston-based dancer and choreographer Lori Yuill had a performance lined up for after her daughter’s birth but, like Kronenberg, had to revise her expectations when Lola, 1, arrived. “It was frustrating,” Yuill admits. “I had imagined that in six months I’d be back to normal. Now I’m realizing some things may never be back to what normal was.”
All of these women say their lives were altered dramatically by having children. Balancing a dance career and a baby involves stress and sacrifice, both in and out of the studio. There’s constant concern over financial stability and childcare. Some of these artists manage by bringing their children to work—even when that means long rehearsals, late performances, and touring. “I have, for better or worse, not respected the rigorous rules of bedtimes,” says Isaac. But she believes her daughters have benefitted from this choice. “I watch my 9-year-old adapt in wildly various social settings, and I love that some of that has come from the culture of art.”
Above: Healther olson with Lake at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, Florida State University. Photo by Carol Ann Olson, Courtesy Olson.
Nakamura and Kronenberg, whose schedules are more fixed, rely on full-time nannies. But spending all day away from the baby presents its own challenges. “It’s really hard emotionally and mentally, and it’s already hard physically,” Nakamura says. And Kronenberg admits she worries about Eva constantly. “Before, in the studio it was ballet, ballet, ballet. I never thought about anything else. Now it’s this constant tape running in my mind.” But, she adds, the nature of her job helps her suppress that. “It comes down to focus, and ballet dancers are so focused there can be a hurricane happening next to you and you know how to block it out.”
Then there’s the enemy of all new parents: exhaustion. “It’s difficult to rehearse when you’ve been up for most of the night,” says Olson—noting that you quickly learn to do more with less. “I used to push really hard, but now I’m learning how to ride the physics of what I’m doing. I’m learning how to be more efficient, and strangely enough it’s improved my dancing.” Less energy also means less negative energy, which can have unexpected benefits onstage. Nakamura says she doesn’t get as nervous before performing with the perspective her daughter provides.
Of course, parenthood means shifting priorities. For Isaac and Olson, touring is more of a challenge than it once was, and Yuill says she has less of a need to rush the rehearsal process. But what’s more surprising is how having a baby reinforced these dancers’ devotion to their art. Isaac considers her work “my first and most needy child” and believes that starting a family deepened her commitment to a life in dance. Yuill—who has been developing a gestural dance based on Lola’s movements—agrees, saying, “I’m able to see things with fresher eyes. Since everything in her world is a new discovery, it’s taken away a little of the cynicism.” Or as Kronenberg puts it, “I feel like a more complete person and bring that into my work as a ballet dancer.”
Above: MCB's Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg shows Eva how to tie her ribbons. Photo by Carlos Guerra, Courtesy Kronenberg.
And in some ways, even the struggles of being a professional dancer who is also a mother can be empowering. “There is something really great about learning how to survive and make it happen. It’s a skill a lot of dancers have, and you draw on that skill,” says Olson. “I have days I feel overwhelmed and upset, but most days I feel unbelievably lucky to have both of these experiences in my life.”
Advice for New Moms
Share a sitter
If there are other dancers with kids in your company or project, hire one babysitter to watch the group and split the cost.
Make the most of breaks
Have an hour off for lunch or a lag between rehearsals and live close by? Head home for a midday visit with your baby.
Learn to let go
Accept the fact that you’ll rarely be able to arrive early to warm up before technique class or squeeze in that extra strength-training session. Beating yourself up about it will only make you less productive in the studio.
A New York dance writer, Elaine Stuart is expecting her first child in December.
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
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As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
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The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
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Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
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