As I enter the 3rd trimester of my pregnancy, it seemed a nice time to share a few reflections from pregnancy so far here on The Balance Point(e). Considering my life is going to tip completely on its head and I will be slowly negotiating what balance means to me in a whole new paradigm, I thought it a nice time to reflect on dance, what it has meant to me in the past, what is even clearer now and my hopes for the future in balancing motherhood and a life in dance.
Pregnancy never ceases to amaze me, which of course is just the warm up for how much parenting and being a Mum will amaze me – I have no doubt. A night owl by heart, I must admit I had my concerns how I would ever cope with having a baby – great for night feeds perhaps but not so much the early waking. Little did I know, that the body adapts so naturally during pregnancy to prepare for being up at all hours with your baby, or so I think that’s what all my 3am wake ups are about!
But once upon a time, early rising was a foreign concept to me. A professional ballet dancer works until 10.30pm most nights before coming home eating dinner, winding down, studying, catching up on Mad Men, seeing friends or just having quiet time before stumbling in to bed about 1am. These strange hours have been my way of life for over 10 years now and slowly the body adapts.
On routine and discipline
When I’m dancing, I wake at 8am (after hopefully 7 hours sleep), get to work between 9.30/10am, class and rehearsals until 3pm, lunch + study + afternoon nap of 20 minutes or physio/pilates/sewing shoes, hair and make up from 5pm, warm up barre 6.30pm, show at 7.30pm, home by 11pm, dinner and wind down to sleep about 1am. Of course on a double show day there is both a matinee and evening performance squeezed in there too.
Dancers are creatures of habit but our profession depends on such a routine. From the moment you wake up in the morning (even more so if you have an important role in that night’s show) you are thinking about that show and how to optimise your day to therefore optimise your show. Always thinking in advance, working out what you need that day to bring your best to the stage.
So, if I happen to have troubles sleeping one night, the routine is messed around a little or you have an unusually early start, I admit that in the past as a dancer, I would fret about the day and how I would get through it. When we are tired not just physically but mentally (or emotionally), it leaves us much more prone to injury or illness. You are monitoring yourself all the time. You cancel seeing a friend in your break because you need to rest. You can’t walk far because your legs are tired. All for the good of the show, for your own peace of mind and to give yourself the best opportunity to dance at your best.
To an outsider, this strict discipline and dedication to the routine can seem a little too stringent or demanding. Surely you need to relax and go with the flow a bit more? But as dancers, from the day you become a professional (and even during your intensive training days as a teenager) you are striving for each minute to count – to count towards your improvement, excellence and performance. The reality is, if you don’t put the work in, the work just won’t be there to hold you up on stage.
When the show must go on
Us dancers are always avoiding the guilt and disappointment when you know you haven’t worked hard enough or smart enough to really bring your best potential on stage, for the audience and for yourself. There is nothing like sharing your own disappointment with 1000+ people under the spotlight.
Ballet is very much a personal pursuit and it can be lonely and isolating. It can also seem incredibly selfish – I struggle at times with how self-focused or self-absorbed I may seem and how that affects other people, especially my loved ones. A professional ballet dancer’s day is also very public, the entire day is played out in front of people, some of it for show but some of it just you as you are, even all the ugliest more-human and less-Sylph like moments.
The privilege of being a performer allows you to perform, but it doesn’t allow for the moments where you need more privacy or sensitivity. Despite being outwardly focused and enjoying other’s company, I sometimes struggle with this lack of privacy. The show must go on. In the times of sadness, grief, despondency, frustration, emotional frailty, there is always someone there watching. We are judged not just our ability to perform, but our ability to cope and be strong and dependable. In the less dependable moments, someone is always there watching.
On the other side of the curtain
So you can imagine how different life is on the other side, as I take a break from dance during my pregnancy and live as the other people live. If I’m tired or emotional, I sit at my desk and sit with those feelings meanwhile doing my work. No one bats an eyelid and if they do, it’s usually to tell me that I look tired and need to take a break! I am revelling in a completely different sense of calm and spontaneity that is less easily discovered in my routine as a dancer.
It’s still a guilty pleasure to have two-day weekends and public holidays; Sunday’s are not just for recovery and perhaps a grocery shop; to finish work just after 5; to be home at night with my husband or out to dinner with friends, to come home at night without the mental chatter of how I danced that day and how to make tomorrow better; in the morning I don’t shuffle to the bathroom with sore feet!
All the while my colleagues in the Ballet are performing night after night in theatres across the country. 8 shows a week, two on Wednesdays and Saturday’s, plus education programs, preparing for the next season during the day, 6 classes a week and 6 warm up barres a week plus all the other extra-curricular things that no one really knows about unless you’re a dancer.
The privilege of performing
I have utmost admiration and respect for the dedication and passion my colleagues hold at The Australian Ballet and all around the world. I almost can’t believe that this too has been my life for the past 10 years, never more than 6 months at home per year, so many friends’ wedding invitations declined and all the rest that comes with a travelling lifestyle.
We hold a special privilege in our hearts to perform to thousands per year, transporting them to a place of beauty for a couple of precious hours in their day. To move people, to remind each other and the audience of our shared humanness, to share our passion, athleticism and artistry with people, to sincerely offer who we are to an audience each night – this is a privilege of being an artist.
On returning to ballet and the stage
While I miss that feeling on stage that cannot be replaced by anything else, I am so thankful to have a break from the relentless pursuit of excellence in dance. Because by having a break, I have even more respect for dance and dancers than ever. I can see it all through much clearer (and fresher!) eyes.
When I return to the stage in 2016, my entire world will be flipped upside down and it will be literally back to ballet basics, but the intensity of the professional ballet experience will still be there. I will however have a special little someone at home who needs me and loves me no matter how many times I fall over on stage, how tired I am or whether I was cast in a particular ballet or not.
And while there may be many early wake up calls, I hope to no longer fret about my day or how I will get through it because I will only be capable of doing the very best I can. I still can’t fully imagine how life will look or feel on the other side of pregnancy, but I know the dedication and passion that has held me in good stead as a professional ballet dancer, no matter how sleep deprived, will hold me in good stead for whatever motherhood brings.
Equally, my time away from the stage will hopefully allow for a a much more delicate perspective of where I fit in to the world of a Ballet Company and hopefully a greater understanding of why I still choose to dance. The routine of dancing professionally combined with the routine of looking after a baby will be challenging – but in a sense I still hope to take it in my stride and know that with the unpredictable and crazy you can also find moments of calm and spontaneity.
Will it be all-consuming, relentless and exhausting on a level I have never felt before? Potentially and most probably yes. But to be a Mum to a little darling and also a professional ballet dancer, I think that is equal to two life privileges in one.