Guest writer: Principal ballerina Sara Webb
(Read Ms. Webb’s bio…)
At eight months pregnant, I look at myself in the mirrors covering the walls in the dance studio and am reminded of the dancing hippos in Disney’s “Fantasia.” I still take class with the Company, but find myself stuffing my toes into my pointe shoes, squeezing my new form into a stretchy leotard, and twirling as best I can to the tinkling of the black and whites’ familiar tunes. Thankfully, no one needs to lift or throw me in the air – do you remember those poor alligators? I now have a new respect for those dancing hippos in their pink tutus, happily spinning and leaping, despite how awkward their form might be. Pulling off “graceful” is an impossible task for me these days.
Dancing hippos are one thing, but dancing pregnant ballerinas are another. There was a time, not too long ago, when pregnancy meant retirement. It was unheard of for a dancer to have a child and return to the stage. Fortunately, times have changed, and so have our options. Today, many ballerinas take time off to have children, find their “grace” once again, and return to those bright lights and pink tutus. Stanton Welch, born to a ballerina mom, encourages dancers to have children when they are ready. Houston Ballet has had many ballerina moms over the last decade. Some have come back and some have retired, but it’s great to know we now have the choice.
I was able to perform Madame Butterfly, Don Quixote, and Coppélia in the early months of my pregnancy last season. I found dancing pregnant was much more exhausting. My muscles fatigued faster and didn’t “fire” as easily as they had before. My stamina was harder to sustain, and nausea made it hard to focus. I remember coming home after long days of rehearsals and collapsing on the couch, falling fast asleep. But I also found dancing pregnant to be a unique and special experience. With a growing belly, my center of gravity was lower, and therefore turning and balancing was easier. I felt like I wasn’t alone in the spotlight during my solos anymore, which was comforting when my nerves acted up. I enjoyed sharing the stage with my growing little one – we were a team. I found it easier to understand Madame Butterfly’s pain in losing a child, especially being in the early months of pregnancy and fearing the possible loss of my own baby. Don Quixote and Coppélia are both very technically challenging ballets. Performing them pregnant was a very rewarding experience for me. However, when I finished my last performance of Coppélia at 17 weeks, I knew I had reached my limit for performing pregnant. My body was ready to focus all energy on growing a baby.
As much as I miss the stage right now, I have been enjoying these last few months pursuing other interests and hobbies, and preparing for this new life I am about to introduce to the world. In addition to taking Company class, I have been taking Pilates, Gyrotonics, and frequenting the gym to try and stay in some kind of shape (I’ve found a new friend in the elliptical machine!). I hope these will contribute to a more manageable labor and an easier return to dancing. All of the ballerina moms that I have read about and sought advice from agree that having a baby not only changes you, but makes you a better dancer. They say that you physically become stronger, your emotions deeper, and your reasons for dancing more defined. “Dancing hippos” aren’t so bad, but I am happy to leave the performing to them right now. After my son makes his debut in November, I look forward to returning to the stage as a “ballerina mom” next year.
See you then!