‘I can’t wait to tell my little one they were on stage with me’ – dance, pregnancy and the journey to parenthood

Rambert dancer Lucy Balfour speaks to leading performance scientist Dr Steve Ingham about life as a professional dancer, how she has continued to work while pregnant and preparing for life after the birth of her child.

Pregnancy and performance

Lucy found out she was expecting her first child in January, a month before Rambert embarked on its UK tour. Her first questions when it came to work were if and how she’d be able to continue performing:

‘With the news of the pregnancy I thought, “OK, this is going to be different now. There’s lots of partnering work, there’s one piece where I’m spun by my feet and I don’t want to be doing that.”‘

Lucy talks about finding out she was pregnant and figuring out the best way of performing

Lucy sat down with the company rehearsal directors to talk through what was possible and what would be a challenge, establishing a support system so she would only dance when she felt able:

Lucy performing in A Linha Curva when five months pregnant © Pierre Tappon

‘We arranged it so that rather than performing all three pieces in a triple bill I’d do one, possibly two, and the daredevil spins were eliminated. The company said if you come to the theatre and you’re not up to it we will always have a cover for you, so that was a massive stress off my shoulders’.

With the support of the company and dancers Lucy performed until she was five months pregnant:

‘I just thought, “you know what, I’m out here doing what I love with this little one inside, and I can’t wait to tell them they were on stage with me.”‘

What does it feel like to dance while pregnant?

Many dancers prefer to continue moving throughout their pregnancy, as it is what their bodies are conditioned to do. Lucy continues to take company class, but as pregnancy progresses adaptations need to be made:

‘I have to remember sometimes I can’t do everything and just chill out. There are some movements I can’t do because baby’s in the way and it can be challenging on the breath, but that’s when you take the foot off the gas. My mind and muscles still think I can do it – I even wake up sometimes and think I’m not pregnant, until I roll over!’

Having spent much of their careers refining and perfecting technique, it can be difficult for dancers to let their bodies take control in pregnancy, and there are mental as well as physical challenges to this:

‘There were moments where I got annoyed and frustrated because I would think “I don’t feel as good as what I was”, but I’ve accepted that, actually, I’m still up here and I’m still moving, it’s just different and I’ve come to understand that different is also good.’

Lucy performing Symbiosis in 2017

New opportunities

Since stopping performing, Lucy has stayed in the studio, using the time she would have spent rehearsing to learn new skills and appreciate dance from new perspectives:

‘At the moment I’m helping with the rehearsal directors. I’m still in the studio, I’m working with the dancers and helping them to prepare.

‘I’m looking at what opportunities I can get now that will help me in the future. I’ve seen things from the rehearsal directors’ point of view and I’ve learned so much about my craft, looking at it through another set of eyes. This can only inform me and make me more well-rounded as a dancer.’

Looking ahead to life after the birth of her child, Lucy is taking it one step at a time:

‘There’s a lot of unknowns, which I’m just letting sit, and I keep checking in to see how I feel. There is part of me that says “why can’t I come back?”

Lucy describes the physical and emotional challenges of training

‘There’s possibility, but I can’t see a clear path at the moment. But I want to get my physique back to what it was, I want to get my strength back because it feels so good to be healthy and strong. I want to be an inspiration to my child, to say anything is possible and don’t let anyone say it’s hard.’

Lucy was interviewed as part of Steve Ingham’s podcast Supporting Champions. You can download and listen to the full interview on iTunes.

Steve is one of the UK’s leading figures in sport, and has provided support to over 1000 athletes, including Steve Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent and Jessica Ennis-Hill, whom he worked with when she returned to sport after giving birth. @ingham_steve

To find out more about dance and parenthood, head to dancemama.org

Header image © Pierre Tappon

2019 Mother's day update

Today, Lucy is on maternity leave from the company and celebrating her first Mother’s Day with her seven-month-old baby boy and husband. While she Lucy spending the day having some well-deserved R&R, taking time to relax is not something that comes naturally to her.

“My whole life, I’ve danced and I’ve exercised (I was still dancing, swimming and light weight training right up until I gave birth), but I did slow down.”

After having a caesarean Lucy was forced to stop so that her body could recover, yet she was desperate to begin again when she was ready.

“After eight weeks, I started doing exercise with my mother-in-law, particularly a class called Hour of Power, which is cardio and weight training, so I’ve been doing that two or three times a week for the last five months. In January, I joined the gym and I’ve been doing classes as well as yoga and pilates at home.”

While Lucy worked hard on maintaining her fitness before, during and after pregnancy – something she advocates others to do – it was going through the physical experience of pregnancy and child birth which inspired a sense of awe in her own body:

“I feel like I would come back [to dancing] fitter, stronger and more resilient. After going through the experience of giving birth, I feel like I could do anything.”

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