Being a parent and having a professional career in dance can be challenging, but it can also bring new opportunities. Read more about how dance affects pregnancy, childbirth, and the journey back to dancing in the new role of parenthood.
I wanted to bring the subject of parenting, motherhood, pregnancy… related to a belly dancer’s life to the Al Raqs conference as it is an important subject to talk about from many different aspects. Finally, last year I found a way to approach this, and instead of a lecture that could be just one point of view, I created a questionnaire where 79 dancers shared their views and experiences. This blog is about the results and some questions that arose from this survey.
Disclaimer – this isn’t research and it only shows data from a small group; we don’t know the background (social, economical, etc.) of the respondents.
There were different segments in the survey, let’s start with…
We asked dancers if they continued dancing during pregnancy and 58 respondents (73%) said YES and specified they continued their training, took classes, and even performed (32 out of 40 professional dancers stated they did continue dancing professionally). 40% of dancers continued dancing until 8 months pregnant, and 30% until childbirth. I personally did not feel good while dancing, so I didn’t dance much while pregnant, so I am happy to see that for most of our respondents, it was the opposite, and they enjoyed dancing in pregnancy until very late.
Interestingly, only 9% of professional dancers shared that pregnancy affected their professional career negatively, 28% positively, and the rest didn’t feel it affected them in any way. I know that this kind of show business might make you feel you should not have kids, at least that’s what I often hear from dancers for various reasons.
Effects could be grouped into:
Positive emotions and empowerment
- feeling happy and content during pregnancy
- realization of self-worth and empowerment, breaking free from negative self-talk
Challenges and resilience
- Overcoming challenges like postpartum depression, infections, body image concerns
- Rebounding from a sense of career loss and physical weakness after pregnancy
Performance and body image
- continuing performances during pregnancy, adapting the costumes
- initial concerns about body image and societal judgment which turned into positive experiences of acceptance and celebration
Personal growth and priorities
- gaining a deeper sense of priority and self-respect
- managing time and priorities better, focusing on what truly matters
There are a lot of myths about belly dance being invented by women as a giving birth ritual, which is historically not proven at all. But it doesn’t mean it can’t help us! Every healthy movement is good for our bodies, especially when it makes us feel better. 49% of dancers said they think it helped them prepare for giving birth, 25% stated that they danced during giving birth, and 70% of them believed it helped them. The most common benefit was feeling psychologically better and relaxed (87%), better pelvic activity during pushing (37%), or ease of pain (37%). 12% stated it helped with the right rotation of a baby into the pelvic. Obviously, dancing during childbirth can be beneficial to some.
I was also curious about when dancers started to dance again after giving birth. 43% after 6 months and more, 43% after 3 months and more, and the rest started after 6 weeks and more. Some respondents shared that it helped them during difficult times in the postpartum, some had trouble getting back to dance as they felt like dancing in a different body than before.
Experiences during birth could be grouped into:
- dancing helped ease emotions, focus on positivity, managing discomfort during labor
- moving the pelvis during contractions was beneficial to some
Lack of opportunity or choice
- some couldn’t dance during labor due to fast progression, medical interventions such as cesarean section
- a few wished they had the opportunity to dance but circumstances didn’t allow
Connection and Awareness
- dancing fostered a strong mind-body connection and awareness which helped during childbirth for some
- it facilitated being conscious of body movements, contractions, breathing, relaxation during the birthing process
Experiences on getting back to dancing:
Emotional and physical recovery
- dance served as a powerful tool for emotional healing during the postpartum period, helping individuals navigate challenging emotions
- many found that engaging in dance allowed them to reconnect with their sense of self, providing a form of self-expression and a reminder of their identity beyond being a mother
- additionally, dance played a role in helping to restore physical well-being, aiding in muscle recovery and regaining strength and shape
Once you become a parent, especially for the first time, the change is significant. You are getting used to a new role, a new body… 60% of dancers stated that they danced less, most of which was due to a lack of time or they couldn’t go to festivals or had to cut down on teaching/performing. On the other hand, 14 dancers from this survey stated they found more opportunities to teach/perform, they had more time for self-practice, or they opened classes for parents and kids. Only 23 dancers feel they can’t balance their time well, with reasons such as a lack of time, lack of support from society or family, lack of energy due to mental overload.
84% family support
52% include kids in their practice
36% share parenting time equally with their partner
28% use society support (daycare…)
Experiences in becoming a parent (and being a dancer) could be grouped into:
- returning to belly dance after childbirth provides personal joy and ownership
Creativity and growth
- parenthood enhances creativity in dance and strengthens connection with the audience
- less time spent dancing doesn’t necessarily hinder growth
- participating in dance events is challenging for parents
- involvement in dance classes often relies on having a supportive partner
- short, consistent dance sessions are squeezed into busy schedules
We presented the results and had a fruitful discussion at Al Raqs conference with my dear colleagues Badriyah and Jrisi; we shared our experiences as well as the participants did. I was curious about opinions about having or not having kids while being professional dancers, as this dilemma affects many of us. There has been pressure from society, event managers, etc., to either have or not have kids at all.
Is there a right or wrong answer to this? Of course not! The choice should fully remain with every individual. It is okay to decide to have kids; it is okay to decide not to have them.
This survey is proof that our ways are each unique.
One of the outcomes of the discussion was that there are not enough opportunities to attend events with babies/kids (either kids are not welcomed, there is no kids corner, or babysitting option, there is no afternoon show that kids could watch…). This is something we could change, as I believe we could be more inclusive, especially in times when we become parents and often feel excluded from, well, everything.
Please take this blog as a look into different stories and experiences of some dancers. Every experience is individual and is a result of different circumstances. For me personally, it was very inspiring to see how our experiences can vary, and yours can be completely different from all those 79 respondents.