Studio Owners

Opinion: Should Breastfeeding Be Allowed in My Studio's Lobby?

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I recently came across a post on social media from a studio owner that I could not ignore. In this post, she explained that a mother at her studio breastfeeds her baby in the lobby of her studio. She went on to say that when this mother nurses her baby, (deep breath...prepare yourself, people) her breast is exposed.


The studio owner went on to ask in the post, "How do I HANDLE this situation? Should I ask the mother to cover up? Should I escort her to the bathroom? There are sometimes BOYS around when she does this!"

The owner repeatedly stated that she has no problem with breastfeeding—just with an exposed chest.

It's baffling to me that with all that comes with the wonderfully demanding job of being a studio owner, this is the problem she was seeking advice for.

As a breastfeeding mommy and dance professional, I couldn't help but chime in with a brief response. Here's a more full-out version of how to handle it.

Avoid Saying, "Cover up!"

Believe it or not, some babies do not love having their meals under a blanket—especially in August! From my experience with my two boys, I can tell you that every time I tried to cover up while nursing (and boy, did I try), a wrestling match would ensue. Trust me, you'd rather see a boob than have a mom try to cover up and aggravate a hungry baby to screaming. After all, I know you all have those signs hanging up: Please be quiet while class is in session!

Never Say, "Hit the John!"

Never, EVER suggest a mother go feed her baby in the bathroom! If you have another space, like a teacher's room, you can offer it to her if she would like more privacy. You should know that public breastfeeding is legal in all 50 states and breastfeeding laws concerning private businesses depend on the state you live in. This means you may actually be breaking the law by asking a mother to take it elsewhere.

How to Handle Exposure

You may think breastfeeding is like a choreographed ballet.

Mother discreetly and effortlessly places nipple in baby's mouth. Baby nurses consistently without fuss for 10 minutes. As baby unlatches, mother magically returns breast to its hiding place while baby sleeps angelically. All take a bow. Every so often this may be the case, but most of the time it is a downtown modern dance improv!

That mommy may have to squeeze, rub and poke at her baby's mouth with her nipple for 10 minutes before latching even occurs. And, babies are just like real people, you guys! When they are starving they will suck down all the milk at once, but more often, they eat leisurely and with distraction, which may (heaven forbid) expose a breast.

It is incredible that body parts that once had so much feeling can become totally devoid of sensation. As dance teachers, we tell our students that calluses are good: "They make your feet tough!" Well, sometimes, for breastfeeding moms, nipples become just like those calluses on your big toes (You're welcome for that image). I greeted someone at my front door recently only to find out (once I returned inside) that my nipple was poking up out of the top of my shirt! Was this deliberate? Of course not. It's possible that when you see a mother exposed without baby attached, she may be unaware.

The Audience

A breastfeeding mother has enough going on. She doesn't (and shouldn't) need to look over the room to make sure she's not offending or embarrassing anyone while nursing. If you notice students (boys OR girls) who are uncomfortable, you can choose to approach their parents. Just say, "Hey, we sometimes have breastfeeding mothers at the studio, if this is something you'd like to talk to your child about, please do."

Pump It Up

If you're a studio owner, you should be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (29 U.S. Code 207) requires an employer to to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express milk.

I've worked for schools that have been very understanding of my pumping needs and for one that was (let's just say) not mommy-friendly. If you have teachers that need to pump, provide a room. Adjust the schedule. Accommodate. Make it work!

Breastfeeding is a magical time that I will cherish forever. It is also sweaty, sticky, sleepless, messy, sometimes painful and a whole lot of hard work. Respect these moms. Be kind to them. They are trying so much harder than you know, and what they are doing is not about you. It is about feeding their child.

Choose your dance battles—this is not one of them.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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