Pregnancy changes the brain structure, per the latest research, in ways that help a mother understand the needs of her infant. The study (from Leiden University and published in Nature Neuroscience) suggests the brain adapts to motherhood by enhancing the ability to empathize. And the effects can last two years. Of course, brain changes are only one of a myriad of ways motherhood can impact a dancer's daily studio practice. Whether you're expecting or coaching a dancer through her pregnancy, you'll want to know what our experts advise to best support a pregnancy physically, emotionally and mentally.


Pregnant Posture ≠ Ballet Posture

What happens to your perfect ballet posture can be alarming. Anneliese Burns Wilson, founder of ABC for Dance, recommends accepting the inevitable and offers some help for two common changes.

Your butt sticks out and your lower back sways

As the baby develops, it shifts forward in your pelvic basin, and your pelvis develops an anterior tilt. Don't fight it. Instead, begin early on to practice finding a healthy pelvic position. Train yourself out of lengthening the lower back, or worse, tucking the tailbone.

First trimester. Photo by Kyle Froman

Find your changing healthy pelvic position (based on the Feldenkrais pelvic clock exercise)

In the first trimester you can do this exercise lying flat on your back; in the second and third trimesters, sit and recline back on your elbows instead of lying flat. Knees bent and soles of your feet together, imagine your pelvis as the face of a clock. Twelve o'clock is where the pelvis meets the spine; 6 o'clock is your tailbone; your left hip is 3 o'clock; your right hip is 9 o'clock. The turned-out position allows for movement of the pelvis on the thighs with less exertion, making it a good choice during pregnancy.

Second and third trimester. Photo by Kyle Froman

Rock your tailbone toward your navel (from 6 o'clock to 12 o'clock), allowing your back to gently lengthen against the floor. Pass through the center or neutral position to rock your tailbone in the other direction, allowing the top of your pelvis to shift forward and your back to gently arch (from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock). Continue to gently transition between these two positions 4–5 times. Rest in the position where your pelvis feels balanced between the 12 and 6 o'clock positions.

Next rock from the 3 o'clock to the 9 o'clock positions. You will feel your weight transfer from the back of one side of the pelvis to the other. The goal isn't to lift one hip off of the floor, but instead to feel the transition from one side to the other. After 4–5 sets of shifting, find center and compare it to the centered position you found above.


6–12 o'clock. Photo by Kyle Froman

Now, find the numbers in between and trace arced paths around the clock in both directions. From your centered position, shift to 12 o'clock, and then trace your way to 1 o'clock and return to 12. Then go to 12, through 1 to 2, and return; 12 through 1 and 2 to 3 and return. Continue to make your way around the clock and then reverse.

At the end, feel your weight centered on your pelvis and move to standing and feel your natural position.


3–9 o'clock. Photo by Kyle Froman

Your shoulders round

To counter the tilt of the pelvis, the thoracic spine increases its curve toward the back of the body. This, combined with the development of fat stores between the shoulder blades, may make you look more round-shouldered and hunched.

Try this chest opener to build strength between the shoulder blades and the muscles that extend the middle and upper back.

Hold a resistance band in your hands with arms straight out in front of you at chest height.

Open your arms toward second position, feeling the shoulder blades sliding toward each other. Release, and repeat.

Try it with an extension: As you pull your arms open, lift your collar bones and sternum toward the ceiling.

Understanding Your Pelvic Floor

Dancers tend to have superficially tight pelvic floors, says Marimba Gold-Watts, who owns Articulating Body Pilates studio (and teaches Horton technique), but not necessarily enough strength in these deep stabilizing muscles at the base of the spine. She recommends three exercises for a more comfortable pregnancy and easier delivery. The idea is to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, while at the same time learning to lengthen and fully release them. This will guard against issues like incontinence and worse—organ prolapse—after birth.

Find Stability on a Ball

1. Sit on a large physio ball with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Choose a big enough ball that your knees and hips form at least 90-degree angles.

2. On an exhale, engage your pelvic floor. Imagine the muscles are an elevator that you are lifting away from the ball. Move the elevator to the second floor. Using deep exhales, lift the elevator to the third, fourth and fifth floors, holding for at least a second on each level.

3. Then release the muscles completely. You can do this for a few minutes daily.

Quadruped Exercise

1. Begin on your hands and knees with a neutral spine.

2. Engage your pelvic floor muscles and your abdominals together. You will feel your baby belly lift toward the ceiling. Think of snuggling your baby closer to your spine without changing the position of your spine.

3. Flex at the hips as you move your pelvis back over your heels, maintaining the engagement and the position of your spine.

4. Release the pelvic floor muscles. Then re-engage and move your hips back over your knees so the hips are slightly elevated.

5. Release.

Repeat 10–20 times.

Note: If your wrists are uncomfortable (which is common during and after pregnancy), fold your yoga mat over a few times under the heels of your hands.

Assisted Squats

1. Hold on to something with both hands—a barre, a Pilates springboard or Cadillac, a TRX at your gym or your significant other—and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and slightly turned out (no more than 45 degrees).

2. Engage your pelvic floor muscles as you lower your pelvis down to a full squat.

3. At the bottom, release your muscles completely, and allow them to stretch.

4. Re-engage your muscles, and maintain engagement as you rise back up to standing.

Eating for Two

As the baby takes up an increasing amount of your internal body real estate, digestion becomes a challenge. But dancers still need plenty of fuel for their busy days and don't have the luxury of sitting around while their body processes a meal. Try these snack and meal ideas from Rebecca Dietzel, co-author of A Dancer's Guide to Healthy Eating. Reach for whole foods as much as possible. Processed products won't give you the nutrients you or your baby need.

Consuming nuts and seeds as butters makes them easier to digest: great sources of protein and healthy fats, try almond, sunflower-seed or hemp butter. Best to skip peanuts, since they have omega-6 fatty acids and inflammatory properties.

Q Whip up your own nut butter in a food processor, using the chopping blade and a big pile of plain, raw nuts. Add cinnamon, mild curry powder, cardamom or cloves to aid digestion and enhance flavor.

Make a smoothie with coconut milk. Add mango or pineapple with cinnamon, or blueberries with ginger. No refrigeration needed. Sip from it all day.

Mash an avocado with lime and cumin—kind of like guac, but skip the raw garlic (could be too pungent and cause nausea).

Keep a jar of olives on hand: easy to snack on, easy to digest, and they're full of good fats for cardiac health.

Pack your soup in a thermos. Make a simple vegetable and rice soup with rosemary and basil.

As the trimesters go on, it will become harder to scarf the whole thermos in a 15-minute break, so bring foods you can eat bite-by-bite, too.

Drink Up

Sometimes, the added pressure of a growing baby on the bladder discourages women from drinking enough. Be sure you drink regularly, even if it means going to the bathroom every 15 minutes.

Add some nutrients to your water

Steamy drinks: rose hip tea, or hot water with lemon or lime for Vitamin C

Refreshing: coconut water, pomegranate juice

Breathe to Calm Your Mind and Body

As the baby grows inside you, you may find you get short of breath more easily. Anneliese Burns Wilson,

a specialist in dance medicine and the director of ABC for Dance, recommends these exercises for early and later stages of pregnancy.

Four-part breath

Before the baby has grown too much is a good time to practice using breath to relieve stress. This conscious breathing exercise is a gentle way to maintain spinal alignment and tone in the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.

Imagine yourself standing inside an inner tube. When you inhale, think of expanding all the way around the circle, not just in one or two directions.

Try to find the four parts of your breath. That is, in addition to the inhales and exhales, notice the brief pause that comes after the inhale and again after the exhale.

During the pause before each exhale, think about lifting your collar bones and gently extending your upper back.

After the exhale, enjoy a moment of stillness. This is when the supportive tone of the stabilizing transversus abdominus muscle can be most easily felt.

Port de bras side

As the baby grows, breathing can become more challenging. This exercise can be done standing or sitting in a comfortable straddle position, and it will help maintain mobility in the rib cage.

Bring your arms to second position (or one arm if you want to use the barre for support).

Lift one arm over your head and lengthen toward the ceiling before stretching over to the side. Maintain length from your hip to your ribs on the underside, instead of crunching them together.

To create even more length on the side you're stretching, rotate your top hand palm up, and then flex your hand at your wrist so you are pushing away from your body. At the same time, consciously press the same-side foot into the floor if you're standing, or the sitz bone if you're sitting.

Feel the dynamic tension from your heel (or sitz bone) to your wrist, as you take a few breaths in this position. Return to your starting position.

We Polled Dance Teachers Online About Their Must-Have Supplies and Gear

Saltines and ginger ale to get you through morning sickness

Capezio dance sneakers to cushion swollen feet and support your back

Myofascial release ball (17 cm/280 grams size) to release the pelvic floor

Balera high-waisted leggings

Never underestimate the benefits of a reliable student assistant. They jump; they turn; they lead warm-ups while you rest your feet!

Seat of Your Soul meditation cushion for a comfy seat

Belly band for extra support

Use a rolling chair to make hands-on corrections after you're done walking for the day.

Loose-fitting Irma top from LulaRoe

Photos by Kyle Froman, Katie Dettling of Fit-Arts, demonstrator; Thinkstock; myofascial release ball: photo by Kyle Froman; shirt: photo by Nathan Sayers, shirt supplied by LulaRoe/Becky Williamson

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

We're nearing the dog days of summer when the heat is unbearable and your patience is thinning. Dancers are exhausted and distracted by the bright sunshine outside your windows, and you can't stop dreaming of the vacation you get to take in just a few weeks. Everyone is wanting to give in to laziness, but you know that that won't bring you the joy you're looking for. You know that jumping in and educating your students and filling their passion for dance is the only way you will feel fulfilled by your work.

You need to get pumped up. You need to be inspired!

Don't worry, we have just the trick. Here are 10 inspirational quotes that will get you through these long (and sometimes grueling) days.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Rachel Papo

Joanne Chapman gave an entertaining rendition of what not to say during a parent/studio director conversation at the New York City Dance Teacher Summit. This panel was created by our team of studio-owner ambassadors, including Chapman and Dani Rosenberg, Becca Moore, Carole Royal, Sue Sampson-Dalena and Jody Phillips. While we enjoyed laughing at the absurd situation, it felt all too familiar to most in the room. The goal of the panel was to model constructive and proactive responses that will support a strong and successful studio business.

Mark Your Calendar

Join us in Long Beach, CA, July 26–28, or in NYC, August 1–3, for our 2019 Dance Teacher Summit.

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo Courtesy of Ballet Next

In 2011, when former American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles departed the company and formed BalletNext, she found an artistic freedom she'd been longing for. Along with new collaborations with choreographers and musicians, she began working with trumpeter Tom Harrell, who introduced her to the multilayered sounds of jazz. "The dancers are another instrument to a jazz musician," says Wiles. Pairing this music genre with her classical foundation has been pivotal in defining her style. "I have this classical facility, but my mind is more contemporary. Jazz is a good intersection for my work," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Rachel Papo

Martin Harvey brought a little movie star charm into morning ballet class at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. (His acting credits include Gossip Girls, All My Children, Dirty Dancing, A Chorus Line, Carousel, plus Metropolitan Opera productions of Carmen and Manon Lescaut.) Educated at the Royal Ballet School in London, he danced many principal roles for The Royal Ballet during his 12-year career.

Mark Your Calendar

Join us in Long Beach, CA, July 26–28, or in NYC, August 1–3, for our 2019 Dance Teacher Summit.

Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: What suggestions do you have for dancers to get their shoulder blades to lie flat on their backs?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox