In the Magazine

Teaching After Childbirth

When is it safe to return to the studio?

Johnette Rutledge keeps an eye on her daughter Violet during class.

Johnette Rutledge didn’t exactly take it easy when she returned to teaching after giving birth to her first daughter. “I literally did across-the-floor—leaps and turns after two weeks,” says the mother of three, who teaches at Summit Dance Shoppe in Minnesota. “That was probably a mistake, but it just felt good to move,” she says.

Like Rutledge, you may be excited to get in the studio again after taking time off. But it’s important to acknowledge that your body will function differently from what you’re used to. Recovering takes patience, and it must be done moderately to ensure your safety.

Each person’s recovery plan will be different depending on various factors. “If you have a vaginal birth and have no lacerations, it will take about four to six weeks to fully recover,” says Dr. Robert O. Atlas, chairman of OBGYN at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. But Deborah Vogel, neuromuscular educator and co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine in New York City, doesn’t believe in following a specific timetable for returning from giving birth. “I want people to really learn to translate what their body is saying,” she says. “How did that feel?”

During the first four to six weeks, the uterus will return to its normal tone and shape. Because of this, overexertion puts you at greater risk for an injury such as a pelvic organ prolapse, which can lead to urinary incontinence. Before getting into the studio, Vogel says to work within a normal range of motion. Focus on walking with proper alignment, doing daily Kegel exercises and performing gentle abdominal movements, like drawing the navel back to the spine as you exhale, to slowly redevelop the core.

Stretching should also be done lightly. When the body prepares itself for childbirth, it releases hormones that loosen joints and ligaments. These effects can remain in the body many months after birth, which may cause you to overstretch. Often, dancers feel especially tight in the hip flexors because of the extra weight carried on the front of the body, which puts more stress on back muscles. Vogel says that gentle stretches like a runner’s lunge can take strain off back muscles and will help in returning to proper pelvic alignment. You can also roll a tennis ball on the hips and under tight places, like the feet, to relieve excess tension.

Your body may not be the only thing that feels off. Having a child can strain your emotions as well. You may feel down in the two weeks following birth. This is normal and can be caused by hormones, lack of sleep and anxieties from being a new mom. If depression lasts longer, Atlas advises immediately seeking a professional. “Postpartum depression is an extremely common silent illness that it is often underdiagnosed,” he says.

For Rutledge, getting back to her dance community helped her feel better. “It’s really easy to sit in your house and be depressed or lonely,” she says. “I think therapeutically, I just needed to get out of the house and be with my students and do what felt natural.”

The mother of three attributes her picture-perfect recoveries to staying active until giving birth. It only took about four weeks to return to her full teaching and fitness routine after each delivery. Her advice, with your doctor’s clearance, is to keep moving throughout pregnancy. Your body will thank you throughout labor and recovery. “You will crave movement, and I think it really does help in healing,” she says. “The body is an amazing vehicle.” DT 

New-Mom Guide

These tips from Dr. Robert O. Atlas will help you through a safe, moderately paced recovery. Clear all exercise plans with your doctor before beginning.

Weeks One and Two

Practice walking in your new body. Begin Kegel exercises. If you’ve experienced tearing or have had an episiotomy, avoid opening the legs wide while the perineum heals. Limit your activity if you’ve had a C-section.

Week Three

Begin mild exercise such as walking, postnatal yoga or gentle dance. Focus on achieving a normal range of movement with light stretching before advancing to other forms of cross-training. Continue Kegels to tone the pelvic floor. Those who had tearing or an episiotomy should still avoid opening the legs. With a C-section, you can increase walking distances, but you should avoid anything that utilizes the abdomen.

Weeks Four to Six

For normal births, exercise routines may be resumed if the new mom feels ready and prepared from work in previous weeks. Be mindful that the uterus may still be healing, and avoid overexertion. If you’ve had a C-section, seek clearance from your doctor to resume a regular exercise routine.

Tess Jones is a freelance writer and hatha, prenatal and postnatal yoga instructor in Seattle.

Photo:Johnette Rutledge keeps an eye on her daughter Violet during class; courtesy of Johnette Rutledge

Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of DM archives

"It's hard not to get too hurt in this profession."

Ann Reinking got real earlier this month at New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Bright Lights Shining Stars gala. She was being honored as a 2017 NYCDA Foundation Ambassador for the Arts, and her speech was so moving that we had to share the entire thing with you.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Grant Halverson, courtesy of ADF

As a soloist with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt and later as his assistant, Elizabeth Corbett got to experience firsthand the groundbreaking choreographer's influence on contemporary ballet. "I find it fascinating and never-ending," she says of his work. "It was a repertory that was constantly changing over time and still is." Now on faculty with the American Dance Festival, Corbett brings Forsythe's repertory and processes to the dancers in class every summer.

Keep reading... Show less
During seated stretches, I encourage my students to sit straight on their sits bones and then fold forward at the hips—even if they don't go forward very far. One student tells me that if she sits as I instruct, she can't reach forward at all. Why?
Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models

In 2011, New York City–based choreographer Pedro Ruiz returned to Cuba after 21 years of dancing with Ballet Hispanico and more than 30 years being away. The experience was so moving that he created The Windows Project as a continuous cultural collaboration between American artists and Cuban dancers.

"I was so overwhelmed seeing all the dancers do Afro-Cuban dance with live music. It was the moment my soul reconnected to Cuba and to my roots," says Ruiz of his first trip back. "I started weeping." He saw that, while Cuban companies and schools have amazing knowledge and passion for dance, they needed access to train with teachers in a variety of techniques, and choreographers outside of Cuba. "Cuba is still struggling economically, so the dancers also don't have good ballet shoes or costumes, and The Windows Project was my way to begin to help," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
Thinkstock

Midway through every semester at Indiana University Bloomington, contemporary professor Stephanie Nugent notices that her students aren't quite as awake as they were the first week of classes. They're tired from midterm exams and bring less energy to the studio. Nugent, too, feels the lull. "Teaching in academia is an arc with many peaks and valleys," she says, noting that the repetition of exercises can get monotonous. "On days when it feels like we've been doing the same thing over and over, I give students an improvisational prompt, and it reignites all of our interests. It's something to investigate, rather than something to repeat."

Most teachers experience a moment of stagnation at some point. Maybe students aren't progressing as fast as you feel they should, or you feel uninspired by the daily routine. Factors outside the studio, like administrative work, can also deplete your energy reserves. During these low and slow times, consider the following ideas to find inspiration and give yourself—and your students—a boost.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, courtesy of BalletMet

Long before switching from ballet to Broadway became de rigueur, Edwaard Liang shocked everyone by leaving New York City Ballet to join the Broadway cast of the musical Fosse. Eleven years later, he defied expectations again by taking over as BalletMet's artistic director—without putting his robust freelance choreography career on hold. Liang, it seems, doesn't pay much heed to the conventional approach to a dance career.

In his four years with BalletMet, Liang has sought to challenge his dancers with diverse repertory that goes far beyond the typical confines of classical and contemporary ballet. This month, to celebrate BalletMet's 40th anniversary, the company teamed up with Ohio State University's dance department and the Wexner Center for the Arts to offer a smorgasbord of dance styles: from William Forsythe's singular brand of leggy-brainy dance to Ohad Naharin's exuberant Minus 16, performed alongside OSU dance students. Here, he talks to DT about the effect his choices have had on his career.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored