This month Dance Mama released our second film giving a window into what we got up to on our national tour of our “life-changing” programme, Dance Mama Live! at dance’s mecca, Sadler’s Wells.
This moving short, made by Flett Films and Tambrisk Pictures (supported by Arts Council England), features 10 dance professionals who took part and captures the hope being restored to parents in dance in sustaining their careers after starting a family.
I’m sure some of you reading are already thinking, ‘Hang on, parents in dance? What’s that?,’ so allow me to explain…
There are three stages of enlightenment on this issue:
1 – “Being a parent in dance is a thing?”
2 – “Oh, I see there are a lot of challenges around being a parent in dance.”
3 – “There is light at the end of the tunnel! There are solutions/approaches to helping people in dance continue their careers as caregivers.”
Perhaps you are at Stage 1. So, back up the bus, who are we, and what do we do to support parents in dance?
Dance Mama is a UK-based non-profit organisation that advocates and celebrates professional dancing parents, highlighting the issues that they face and providing inspiration, information, and support.
It began as a modest platform for stories I uncovered whilst researching for an article I wrote for One Dance UK back in 2014 when I became a mum. I was dissatisfied with the lack of industry resources for parents and felt called to do something about it.
Our ‘unique and vital’ site and my interest in this area grew as did our family with our second child. It developed into a platform that pioneers research, and shares information, content, and resources. Capitalising on my 20-year career in the sector, I developed professional development learning activity and a mentoring service (online and in person) to support global dance professionals who are parents or aspiring to be.
A large part of this issue is the cultural barriers around being a parent in dance – you need to see it to believe it’s possible – and sharing stories and experiences are the cornerstone of what we do. I’ve interviewed over 70 people in a range of roles on and off stage and in different genres. Over the pandemic, the interviews progressed into a podcast on YouTube and Apple/Spotify as I am always keen to make our content as accessible as possible. This is because a majority of audience are time-poor (and usually sleep deprived) so making things as easy as we can for them is a priority.
Did you know that an alarming 7 out of 10 parents* leave their artistic careers when they start a family? Welcome to Stage 2 of the Dance Mama enlightenment journey. There are so many odds stacked against working parents already; childcare, logistics, finance, physiological and psychological changes, the patriarchy – I could go on. For dancing parents many of these issues are amplified as they work irregular hours, often for intensive and unpredictable periods, as well as the impact the perinatal period has on their body which they rely on (more than most people) for work.
For too many years I have seen brilliantly talented friends and colleagues forced out of their careers because they started a family, and our sector is all the poorer for their absence. This spurs me on in our mission to change this bleak situation and unhelpful narratives that surround this phase of life as a dancer.
Fundamentally, there is an alarming lack of evidence on this issue across lots of areas of study, which is why in 2021 I picked up the ‘academic shovel’ (after a 20-year hiatus) to capture some of this data for postnatal professional dancers, by embarking on a PhD at Christ Church Canterbury University. Not an easy thing to do with 2 children and a company to run, but as Dumbledore would say, ‘There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.’
The dance sector needs to vastly modernise on this issue, because quite simply, it can’t afford not to. The devastating impact of the pandemic and subsequent shifts in funding and policy have got the dance version of the Weasley clock pointing to ‘mortal peril’. For an industry that employs a large proportion of women, its understanding of the seasons of change in the female body and synchronicity of training/rehearsal with them in mind is pretty archaic. From understanding the impact of puberty to menopause, dance is woefully behind its counterparts in other comparable sectors such as sport.
Dance’s inclusion of parents artistically and culturally on the whole too, is outdated. I believe this is down to an unconscious view that having a family is a choice, and therefore people have to take responsibility for the potential negative impact this may have. This view excludes those who may start families unplanned, and perhaps not in the best of circumstances. Whilst I agree people do need to take responsibility for their actions, I don’t believe having a family is or should be considered a negative. The parenting experience adds a great number of skills to the artistic toolbox, a primary one being empathy – a key factor in being able to relate meaningfully to an audience/other people.
What I feel needs to be challenged is the value the sector holds for parents, and why the creative act of making and raising a family is often seen as not as important as making art. Rather than a ‘problem,’ it adds riches to our practice.
The light at the end of the tunnel?
In our film, you can see how Dance Mama inspires and connects these amazing women and raise awareness of these challenges. We are committed to improving the situation through our work and raising awareness through high-quality, engaging content made from a lived experience perspective. We hope that it will inspire you to reflect on your colleagues, participants, and audience with families, as we help parents in dance move their worlds.
*PIPA Campaign research 2021. Copyright held by Dance Mama.
Watch ‘How We Support Parents in Dance’ now:
This is a guest blog post written by Lucy McCruden at Dance Mama for diagonal dance.