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'Motherhood in dance'

'Maternidade na dança'

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I grew up thinking that ballerinas had to wait until retirement to have babies, since dedicating their body and soul to the profession allowed no time to raise a family. Whether it is a myth or a reality of the past, it is definitely not the case in the twenty-first century. I have encountered many wonderful dancers through the course of my career who were happily married and had children (sometimes more than one) whilst dancing at their peak. Besides, upon returning to the stage, they were shining more than ever!

Ballerina Alessandra Ferri and her babies, 2001.

So many professional dancers I know come from a family of dancing parents and were introduced to ballet when still in their mother’s wombs, myself included. My mum kept dancing until she was three months pregnant, when morning sickness hit her hard. Some ballerinas continue taking ballet classes until the very late stages of pregnancy, although unable to perform for obvious reasons.

Seeing their little ones sat in the wings at the Royal Opera House, their faces lighting up as they watch mum (or dad) performing, is just priceless. One can’t help but wonder if they are falling in love with ballet, if they have inherited the same talent. When I was little, I used to sit in a corner of the ballet studio and watch my mum teach her lessons, later attempting all the steps at home. Mum had no nanny to look after me, so she just brought me along. Growing up in a dance environment certainly encouraged me to choose this life.

My first walk on stage (mum on second pregnancy).

We have seen this last year an exceptionally high number of pregnancies in the company. No less than nine dancers had babies since the pandemic, amongst them my longtime Brazilian friend Leticia Stock, who gave birth to baby Gi, and principal dancer Lauren Cuthbertson, who welcomed baby Peggy. Was it all planned out? Did dancers around the world see the halt of performances as an opportunity?

It mustn't be easy juggling work and parenthood, especially with the physical demands of ballet and our unpredictable working hours. Unsurprisingly, five female dancers at the Royal Ballet recently took voluntary redundancy, almost all of them new mothers. Coming back from pregnancy may not be as hard as it seems, but I can't really speak from experience. I always believed that it would be the hardest part; however, I've witnessed my colleagues amazingly transform back into ballerinas. The biggest challenge, I feel, must be finding yourself torn between work responsibilities and your priorities as a mother.

Lizzie Harrod, retired last year after having her third child.
Nathalie Harrison (here seven months pregnant), also retired after 18 years of RB and two children.

Even though I am not a part of the Royal Ballet 'baby boom', I feel like I’ve had a little taste of motherhood myself since we welcomed a new addition to the household, our little kitten Rudi!

I came home one evening after a late stage call of Solo Echo to find a tiny, fluffy thing curled up in our kitchen. We finished running the ballet and I didn't even shower, just rushed home to meet 'our baby'. I could have never imagined how sweet and cute he would be, and how happy he would make us.

I've always had dogs in Brazil. All these years living by myself in England I’ve longed for a pet to keep me company, but my lifestyle made it impossible to care for one. Being part of a touring company meant I was travelling most of the time, but even now at The Royal Ballet, having settled down in London, it would mean leaving the poor dog by himself all day and relying on others for help, as both my boyfriend and I are full-time dancers.

Finding ourselves at home a lot more (because of the pandemic), we considered getting a cat, since they are a lot more independent than dogs. I never had one, but Kevin grew up with cats. He is now recovering from an injury, meaning he would be in need of a little companion at home. That influenced my decision a great deal, not to mention the fact that our theatres remained closed after a year, and I still had my free evenings. There was just one tiny detail…I didn’t know how to take care of a cat! With a little help from Kevin, I would learn the job as I went, as I believe first-time mums do.

Rudi is a Siberian cat. Everyone thinks his name was inspired by the dancer Rudolf Nureyev (his nickname was Rudi), but actually it was a pretty big coincidence because I joked about calling him Rodolfo (Portuguese for Rudolf), and on the day we decided whether or not to adopt him, I saw an Instagram post celebrating the dancer Nureyev, and I took it as a sign that both the name and the kitten were perfect!

Thirteen weeks later (it felt like the longest time ever), we welcomed Rudi into our home. He is four months and a half now, very cuddly and falls asleep on my lap at any opportunity. He likes to hunt feathery toys and hide inside boxes, or underneath rugs. He is affectionate but also very naughty and playful!

I always woke up early to read or do my studying after breakfast, but now I use the time to play with Rudi instead. Apart from slight changes in routine and thinking about what to do with him when we want a weekend away, I found that caring for a kitten wasn’t so hard after all. All he needed was feeding three times a day, a clean litter box for his necessities, some love and attention, and a play mate! Our new parenting life had started off really well...

Until I came home one Friday night to find that Rudi had been sick on the living room carpet. Hearing that cats throw up hairballs all the time, I didn't think much of it, but three days later Rudi still wasn’t well. Luckily, I had the day off on Monday and booked him an appointment with the vet. I phoned a taxi and we jumped in, my first time travelling with him inside a carrier, and he was very well behaved. Kevin was at work that day doing rehab, and I felt very responsible for making sure Rudi was ok.

‘Everything seems normal,’ said the vet, ‘just keep an eye on him and make sure he is eating and drinking, being his usual self.’

I wanted to ask him so many questions, but because of Covid restrictions, I couldn’t even go pass the front door to be with Rudi. I waited on the pavement for news, and only managed a brief conversation over the phone with the vet.

After a long and stressful week of stage rehearsals for the 'Beauty mixed programme', and many taxi rides back and forth to the vet, Rudi started getting better, and I could finally breathe again!

During this period of not knowing what was wrong, I was extremely worried. One day, I barely made it to work; I finished barre and seeing I had no rehearsals that afternoon, I cancelled all my appointments and rushed back home because I just could not stop thinking that I had abandoned my sick kitten, who was all alone. It made me realise how much our priorities change and what it would mean to feel responsible for another human being. I wondered how I'd cope as a real mother.

I respect and admire dancing mums now more than ever before. Nothing compares to having a newborn at home, but I believe that Rudi has come at the right time to teach me a lot of things. When it comes to cats, I know now that they are extremely curious, and that I should be more careful when leaving things around, plants and toys, or anything that is within their reach. I also learned that their purring has therapeutic properties; it can calm you down, lower your stress levels and even promote tissue and bone healing! Rudi's soothing purr might just be the thing a ballerina needs to recover from a day of much dancing.

Rehearsing the Bluebird pas de deux with Jun.


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