Dancer Health

Happy Mother's Day! These 3 Professional Dancers Share Their Stories of Motherhood

@ashleyellisb on Instagram

Happy Mother's Day! We are so grateful for all of the mamas in the dance world. Whether related by blood or not, we mother each other, and we are lucky to be a part of such a generous and nurturing community.

As a special treat today, we caught up with three professional ballerinas across the country who are also new mothers. We got the ins and outs on the joys and challenges that come with motherhood and a top-of-your-game career. Check it out!

Allison DeBona: Soloist at Ballet West

Baby: Ajax

Age: 4 months

Q: How long before giving birth were you able to dance?

A: "I was in class two days before I had him—I was trying to get him out! But I couldn't do much the same way I could before I was pregnant though. Every pregnancy is different, but for me Ajax was so low that I lost the ability to get my legs to the front super early on."

Q: How long after you had your baby did you begin dancing again?

A: "I went back to work for Ballet West just four weeks after having Ajax as the Queen in Swan Lake. I didn't get permission to actually dance though until about eight weeks after."

Q: What has surprised you most about coming back to dance after having a baby?

A: "My mental approach to ballet culture and how I work in the studio is completely different. I just don't find things as dramatic or urgent as I once did. There used to always be some kind of drama before a performance where everything would feel so difficult as I sought perfection. Now, I feel like I am there to enjoy myself. I am an even harder worker than I was before because if I'm going to be away from my baby, I'm going to make the most of that time.

"I don't care about looking stupid. I went back to work on Monday and got thrown into rehearsal for a ballet created in August when I couldn't really do anything. I looked like a fool and I didn't care. I felt out of shape, and I couldn't get my legs up the way I wanted and I couldn't move as quickly. I did it in a leotard and tights with no warm-ups on, and I didn't even care. I gained 60 pounds with Ajax. I am down 45 and I still have 15 to go. I'm trying to stay realistic about it. Who gains 60 pounds in nine months loses 45 in four and then says, 'Well I still have 15 to go'? I'm doing great."

Q: How do you juggle it all?

A: "I just kinda do it. I don't have a choice. Until I went back to work, Rex [Tilton] and I were on our own, but the week I started dancing again his mom came out to help. I was feeling afraid to leave him in a daycare all day. On top of dancing I'm also juggling artEmotion [a summer intensive DeBona created with Tilton]. I was managing all 19 of our auditions on our tour just two weeks after giving birth."

Q. What advice do you have for dancers who are afraid they can't do both?

A: "I think the best advice I could give is to not make expectations for yourself post-pregnancy. I wanted to be back to 100 percent way sooner than my body or my baby wanted me to. I learned I'm not really in control anymore. Dancers coming back have to be OK with that. It's not easy to look at other ballerinas go through pregnancy yet have a totally different journey than your own. Some women can kind of stay in shape, some women gain weight immediately—all of our bodies are different. Stay open to your journey.

Ashley Ellis: Principal at Boston Ballet

Baby: Gray

Age: 3 months

Q: How long before giving birth were you able to dance?

A: "I took class my whole pregnancy—like up to the morning I went into labor. For some people that doesn't work, and there is no judgment either way. For me it was OK. I felt really happy in class, and it was just really nice to move and sweat a little bit that whole time.

Q: How long after you had your baby did you begin dancing again?

A: "I took a couple weeks off, and then I gradually began to do a little bit of movement. Having never gone through this before, I had assumed I could push myself the way I used to, but you really have to be careful. Things are still moving internally for a little while. It's hard but I've had to be patient. I did grande allégro for the first time just over two months after having the baby. I'm still on my way back."

Q: What has been the greatest joy about having a baby?

A: "As a woman, as a person, as a wife, everything has been so incredible. I feel so fortunate to have been able to go through every part of pregnancy. I found it all very fascinating and joyous. And then having the little guy here, there is just so much love. My heart feels so full all the time."

Q: What advice do you have for dancers who are about to become mothers themselves?

A: "If you're one thinking that you maybe want it, it is so worth it. It's a challenge coming back, and your body goes through a lot, but it's not so hard that it's not worth it. Take a break when you need to take a break. Work when you need to work. Listen to your body."

Laura Tisserand: Principal Dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet

Baby: Amélie

Age: 21 months

Q: How long before giving birth were you able to dance?

A: "I continued to take company class every day all through my pregnancy. I got pregnant in October and I performed through Nutcracker, and then I stopped dancing onstage. I felt pretty good throughout my whole pregnancy. I danced and swam at least twice a week.

Q: How long after you had your baby did you begin dancing again?

A: "I had her when the company was on summer break, so my husband was able to be around as well. It was amazing. I had him all through July and August as well. I took the full recommended six weeks before doing physical activity (OK, maybe five. I hedged it a little bit.) I took that time and enjoyed every moment with her.

"I did start to put pointe shoes on early, though—not wearing them felt foreign. I think doing that helped keep my feet in shape. I started performing again at the end of October."

Q: What has surprised you most about coming back to dance after having a baby?

A: "It was so amazing to me that I could have ballet as my passion and now this wonderful girl who is also my passion—really my foremost passion. God gave me two things that I can have and love. For me, I happened to be lucky and things clicked back pretty quickly. It was actually surprising to me that I was able to come back as quickly as I did.

"Motherhood has made the road of my career more enjoyable. I feel like every hour at the studio or theater is so precious because they are taking hours away from my child. It makes me maximize everything. I am fully present when I am there so that when I leave I can be fully present with my child. I think that has made my dancing more enjoyable to watch. Before I might have cared about what the audience is thinking or if they liked watching me in a certain role. Now, I realize everyone is there to have a good time, and I am there to do my best and that is all that matters."

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