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Flash Perspective, 5-13: The Full Suitor
A Dancer's First Mother's Day

By Rebecca Stenn
Copyright 2003 Rebecca Stenn

Editor's Note: In honor of Mother's Day, we've asked Dance Insider features editor, dancer, choreographer, artistic director (of PerksDanceMusicTheatre) and first-time mom Rebecca Stenn to share how she has been able to maintain her dance career and fulfill her motherly responsibilities at the same time.

When I gave birth to Jonah Jude Weissman last September, being a mother while continuing to dance, choreograph, and direct a company was not a foreign concept. Since the beginning of my career, I have danced with companies where the 'family unit' encompassed not just the dancers, but also the children of the dancers and choreographers. Both Momix and Pilobolus offered wonderful role models for me of mothers as choreographers, and as dancers touring with their children. It seemed natural, and I always knew that someday I would follow in their footsteps.

Aren't women told that we can have it all? Didn't our mothers, and grandmothers set us up for this? I suppose there must be some smartly symbiotic way to have both a busy dance company and a new baby without going crazy, and I think I'm close, but I haven't stumbled upon it yet.

As a dancer, to me the thought of having a child always seemed daunting, for many reasons -- the fact that I have a career where my body is my livelihood for starters. How would my physical make-up change? Would I be able to continue with my career? Would I get my body back into dancing shape after giving birth? Interestingly enough, though these questions remain, as of yet, not totally answered, they have become so much less important to me post-natally. Most days, I am so amazed by this baby that I have, that I'm able to overlook the fact that I'm still 8 pounds heavier than I was before I became pregnant. Sure I got back in shape, arguably I never got out of shape, dancing through my eighth month and then swimming up until a week before the baby was born. The difference is the kind of shape I'm in. It's post-baby. But then, every single thing in my life is post-baby and once you've accepted that, everything gets easier.

Here is what is amazing to me: how natural this all seems. Before I had the baby, I didn't have any clear vision about how I would be able to continue running my dance company, performing, choreographing, teaching -- in essence, doing all the things I had been doing every day of my life for years. I could barely find time to eat lunch -- how would I do all of this and have a baby? But babies come and life goes on and you make the necessary changes. From the pregnancy on, it felt natural. My body was suddenly completely new to me, and yet, it seemed perfectly right -- my protruding belly, skin tight and stretched across it. As soon as I felt the baby kick and flutter inside, I was transformed. And now I have a different body, a changed body, a mother's body, that's still just a little soft around the edges. Other mothers assure me that when I stop breast-feeding the baby, the softness will go away. No one tells you that after the baby is born you can't just slip into all of your old clothes. The fact is none of my old clothes fit me. But this is a perfect metaphor for change.

I should talk, however, about how one actually does it -- that is, take care of a baby (which takes almost every minute of every day, day and night) and run a company (choreograph, do the administrative tasks, take class, endless etcetera). I can tell you with one small, concise word, which has become a friend and savior like no other: Naps. There it is. You can't imagine how efficient you can become, the minute the baby falls asleep. His eyes close and bang, you tear into action, completing 15 tasks where you used to luxuriously amble through one.

Though naps are essential, there is something else that I rely on even more heavily, and that is help in the form of my mother in law, better known as Grandma. I know I'm lucky, and that many people live excessively far away from their parents or in-laws, but I don't take it for granted. Before Jonah was born, my mother in law suggested that she give me one "grandma day" a week. This really is how I manage. I can take class, have meetings, write grants, basically do all the things I need to and know that Jonah is safe and sound and probably enjoying the change in personnel. And it doesn't have to be a grandma -- I know of women who have found someone else like this to relieve them every now and then. I can't stress how important this has been for me. It has allowed me my sanity.

Grandma has gone on tour with the company a few times, and luckily finds the experience to be delightful. She told me that after she retired this past year, she had two dreams: to spend time with her grandchildren and to travel. A touring grandma thus seemed to be a perfect fit and so far it is. Jonah has spent a good deal of time backstage and I've nursed him, on a number of occasions, at intermission, in full costume. He loves the music and the lights. He also loves, so far, to be passed around from person to person in the company. This makes me think of the saying "It takes a village to raise a child." My uncle calls it the gypsy model -- many adults taking care of a child -- and it makes sense to me. During my pregnancy, someone advised me: Don't be afraid to ask for help. Dancers are, by nature, self-reliant and independent. It took me some getting used to, but I think I have just about mastered it by now and if someone offers to take the baby for a bit, I can't imagine saying no.

I recently mentioned to a friend who is also a dancer and new mom that I was gathering my thoughts for this article. I asked her if she had anything to add, and she told me something that I found quite beautiful: "I have found the joy again, in dancing, because it has lost its overbearing importance." That is, there is something else in her life now that tempers both the delight and frustration inherent in dance, and allows her to find the pure joy of movement for movement's sake. For me, I find that I have a whole new perspective about my work; I'm still ambitious and devoted to making and performing dance, but it has become coupled with this other, totally fulfilling thing, that is always with me, always. There is both fear and pleasure in that -- but isn't everything worth anything a balance of both the bitter and the sweet?

(To be honest, there is another huge factor in making this all work, but that is a whole other story, better for Father's Day.)

Rebecca Stenn performs "The Family" June 13 at the 92nd Street Y, on a shared program with Christina Briggs and Edward Winslow that begins at noon. For more information, please click here.

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