During the ;rst weeks of Boston Ballet’s 2014–15 season, I began
preparing for the most challenging role I could imagine: I was going to
be a mother. To stay in the best shape possible, I took class every day,
working on all the elements of technique that my changing silhouette
would allow (mainly, footwork and port de bras), and kept up a schedule of low-intensity cardio. Even on the day I went into labor, I gave
myself a barre in the kitchen and did 30 minutes on the elliptical.
There was a time in the ballet world when pregnancy and dance
were mutually exclusive, one virtually mandating the absence of the
other. That day is gone. The understanding of the dancer body is
evolving, careers are getting longer and audiences and dancers alike now appreciate the
artistry that develops through the process of
But it’s not easy. “Pregnancy is a time
of tremendous anatomic and physiologic
changes,” says Dr. Bridget Quinn, one of the
physicians on Boston Ballet’s medical team.
Your ligaments get looser. Your center of
gravity changes. You become short of breath
more easily. Your body needs more nutrients
and requires more rest after physical activity.
It’s a lot for a dancer. But with diligent train-
ing, you can prepare for both a healthy labor
and a quick recovery.
CROSS-TRAINING WHILE PREGNANT
“Dancers are so used to pushing through
physical issues like fatigue and pain, but
pregnancy is a time to listen to your body,”
says Heather Southwick, director of physical therapy at Boston Ballet. She suggests
pregnant dancers take up swimming for its low-impact cardiovascular
bene;ts and its ability to increase circulation, muscle tone and endurance. She also tells dancers to practice ballet steps in the weightless
pool environment. On drier ground, she recommends side-lying exercises to work hip abduction and gluteal strength, allowing for greater
hip stability during recovery.
As the weight of the baby shifts your postural alignment, the spine
can begin to sway painfully. For this reason, Marika Molnar, director of
physical therapy for New York City Ballet, suggests practicing prenatal
Pilates to help maintain proper spinal alignment and pelvic placement.
Mostly, dancers need to be aware of what
their changing bodies can handle. I was told I
could largely keep my pre-pregnancy routine
as long as I was working within my limits. As
I took class, I remained mindful of my shifting
center of balance, my turns gradually became
relevés and I stopped jumping after 20 weeks as
directed by my PT. I also drastically slowed the pace of cardio work-
outs, and made sure to stretch my hip ;exors and psoas to maintain
;exibility and take pressure off my lower back.
After the baby is delivered, Southwick suggests dancers pay extra
attention to the muscles in their pelvic ;oor. These muscles, important for balance, stability and continence, undergo signi;cant stress
during the carrying and delivery of a baby—the area can become weak
and stretched as early as 12 weeks into your pregnancy. Prolonged
Keep your body strong through
pregnancy for a faster recovery.
BY SARAH WROTH
A focus on strengthening the shoulder girdle
(the muscles between your shoulder blades)
is paramount for preparing the body for the
not-so-balletic postures of breastfeeding.
As I began walking on the treadmill during
my recovery, I would engage my traps and
parascapular muscles by doing a five-minute
series of arm and back exercises—it not
only improved my posture but kept me
entertained on the treadmill.
TIP: Marika Molnar also suggests adapting
your breastfeeding posture by supporting
your arms with pillows, for example, to
improve your upper-body placement.