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What's it like being a pregnant ballerina?

First Artist Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani shares the highs and lows of her journey to motherhood.

By Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani

29 December 2017 at 2.54pm | 5 Comments

Discovering I was pregnant was pretty surprising… and then a little daunting!

I tried to keep it quiet for a few weeks, but I was feeling quite nauseous and started napping in any break I could, so I was sure people had figured it out. I told my close friends at around seven weeks and was surprised to find that they had no idea and were simply over the moon for me. I had wanted to keep it quiet until my 12 week scan but that plan failed quite publicly when I was sick on stage!

The entire Royal Ballet Company was there, as well as the make-up team, the wardrobe department, all the stage crew, ballet staff, full orchestra and even some photographers. I was performing a Principal role in Mayerling at the time, so I didn’t have anyone to hide behind, nor could I discreetly run off stage. The only good thing was that it was only a dress rehearsal, so luckily there was no audience.

I tried everything to deal with the sickness, from all the common remedies like eating dry foods (biscuits and toast and anything ginger-related) to sickness bands, aromatherapy and meditation, but nothing helped. It became really depressing that I couldn’t do anything with my days and I felt like I was failing my baby already, since I couldn’t even keep food in me. After an extremely bad day, I phoned my GP, and she prescribed me a couple of medications. Within about a week, I had enough strength to go into work but I had to start very slowly.

Initially it was very difficult to have such a demanding job. I’d lost nearly 5kg in my first trimester, so I was very weak. Once I could eat again, my weight steadily increased and I returned to my normal diet – although now I'm a bit more lenient with my sweet tooth! – but every week it felt more and more difficult to dance. As dancers, we spend our lives trying to control every single muscle in our bodies into making these perfect classical lines and precise movements, all the while making it look effortless, but I’ve completely lost control now! It can feel so alien to try and do a step that once came so naturally to me.

Despite that, I still try to do as much as I can. I take Company ballet class but I can’t do it every day anymore. Depending on how I feel I’ll also exercise in other ways: sometimes it's a bit of pilates, strength training or swimming. Over the past few months I’ve created a routine that’s perfect for me and my changing body – a combination of stretching and strengthening work incorporating some relaxation techniques as well to balance everything out.

It's important I'm careful not to let my heart rate get too high. As dancers, we can easily get carried away, so it's something I am much more aware of now; in ballet class I need to modify certain exercises that are a bit too fast. It’s been a fine line of doing enough so that my body doesn’t get ballet withdrawal, but not doing too much, so that my body can prepare for this little person that’s about to arrive! Needless to say, now at 38 weeks my bump is definitely interfering when high legs are required and it’s become a bit too strenuous to be doing any allegro (jumps)!

It's also been tricky to find the right clothes to wear for class. I haven’t come across any maternity leotards but I’ve discovered some great maternity fitness ranges. There’s also a number of dancers with children in the Company now, so every few days I’d get an item or two appearing on my spot in the dressing room. I still don’t know where some of it has come from! I look forward to passing on my pregnancy outfits to the future ballet mums-to-be.

I've been very lucky that I've been able to keep busy over my pregnancy, with a few projects on the go including the Royal Ballet Fit pilot video series, as well as taking on more teaching both at the Royal Opera House and around London. I’ve also started my own ‘Ballerina Pregnancy Vlog’!

We always get asked about our lives as dancers but it’s even more so now that I’m pregnant. So I want to share my experience with everyone – the good and the bad. It’s also a great way to remember and document this special time, especially since I’m definitely suffering from some pregnancy amnesia!

Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani is a First Artist with The Royal Ballet. You can follow her pregnancy vlog on her YouTube channel, or find her on Instagram.

By Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani

29 December 2017 at 2.54pm

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged

This article has 5 comments

  1. Missy responded on 2 January 2018 at 5:26am Reply

    I've always wondered...what does a dancer do when pregnant? Obviously at some point one can't fit in a tutu to perform. And they can't just take a year off for maternity leave. And as far as i know (which isn't much) dancers are paid mostly based off performances or something like that. Just curious.

    • Anett_M responded on 2 January 2018 at 1:03pm

      Hi, here in Hungary members of the National Ballet are offered to help on regular open days and audience events meeting with people. These are popular programmes for children and adults showing them around the Opera House and backstage areas and giving some activities for those dancers expecting a baby.

    • ML responded on 2 January 2018 at 1:58pm

      At large or state-sponsored companies they are allowed maternity leave when they need to stop dancing in pregnancy. They won't appear on stage during that time but they continue to be able to go in to take daily class with the company to keep fit if they want to, as medically it is now recognised that gentle exercise is very beneficial to the mother and baby. They won't join in the multiple pirouettes or demanding jump combinations but barre work with the knee bends and exercises with feet and ankles are useful. In large companies like the Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, New York City Ballet, etc, you'll often find that a good number of their female dancers have given birth and returned to dancing with the company later.

    • ML responded on 2 January 2018 at 2:14pm

      With regard to pay, it differs from company to company and country to country, but many state companies in Europe attached to opera houses eg Royal Danish Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, there are good maternity pay and sick pay packages partly due to law and partly due to the financial resources the institution has- there are often women on the roster of dancers not performing at any given time due to maternity leave and they are still paid.

      In Britain all companies (ballet companies included, although some dance ensembles might not be classed or registered as companies) have to adhere to statutory maternity pay laws from small businesses to large companies like Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet etc and there are financial structures in place to provide for that, although statutory maternity pay is not lucrative in any occupation! Some larger ballet companies may have the financial strength (eg from endowments) to top up the basic state maternity pay, although I am not privy to individual companies' pay details.

  2. Missy responded on 4 January 2018 at 4:03am Reply

    Thank you for answering! I totally didn't know any of that. Its good to know that they're taken care of. Becoming a parent is hard enough.

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