Having watched many friends dance throughout their pregnancies, I had no idea how challenging it would be to stay active during my own. As I write this, I’m 27 weeks along and expecting a baby girl in late August. I had just recovered from the overwhelming fatigue and omni-present naseau of the first trimester, when I was diagnosed with a “subchorionic hematoma” which is a fancy way of saying I had a small glob of blood trapped between my uterus and placenta. Not a big deal, except that my OB (who clearly had no idea of my profession) said, “This shouldn’t affect your work at all, but don’t exercise until at least two weeks after this goes away.” Huh, not affect my work? How are you supposed to dance and choreograph without exercising? I started fantasizing about a conceptual, talky piece I could do while reclining on a chais lounge eating bon-bons.
Coincidentally, my “take-it-easy” sentence coincided with auditions for a new company member and the beginning of rehearsals for Turbulence. My interpretation of doctor’s orders: ok to to stretch and mobilize gently, but not to strain or overly exert myself. Probably I was not supposed to be lugging my costume-suitcase up subway stairs. I was going to sit back, be a folding-chair choreographer and let my dancers work.
For the auditions, I marked a phrase for my current dancers and they taught it to the newcomers. Gosh, that’s how it should always work. I generally choreograph collaboratively with dancers, but for this process I’ve had to rely on them particularly to generate movement vocabulary. We’ve used many improvisational techniques and focused on specific imagery. The upside of my sitting out, is that the range of movement dynamics my six dancers have invented is much greater than if it had all come out of my own body.
Once I had the go ahead to start dancing again, I had to figure out how to do so in my newly-expanded body.
A pregnant woman at full term has a 50% increase of blood volume. Don’t know what % I’m up to now, but here’s what I can say: inversions are out. I can’t hang over my legs, or pose in downward dog, for more than about 5 seconds, before my head feels like it’s going to explode. Forget about handstands.
All that extra blood means extra work for the heart. And a good chunk of the O2 in the blood going around has to feed the baby. I walk up a flight of stairs and my head is pounding. With the uterus pushing the stomach up into the diaphragm, my lungs don’t have their full capacity. I can workout now, but won’t be running any marathons. So nothing too aerobic, no jumps (with the extra weight couldn’t get much elevation anyway). Getting into and out of the floor, too, require careful consideration — and hands.
On the plus side, being pregnant gets you pumped up on hormones that make your ligaments lax. Even after a month without dancing, I was loosey-goosey and moving fluidly. More importantly, I feel as if a spell of well-being were cast on me, concocted from everyone’s love, good wishes and protective impulses. That spell and, of course my own joy and anticipation, have made me feel like dancing.
Limitations offer freedom. It’s been fun figuring out what my big-bellied body can do now. One thing that feels absolutely amazing is back-bending. Arching the spine and expanding the ribcage makes more room for the baby and for my lungs to fill-up with air (whoopee!).
I’ve also been getting a kick out doing a ballet-barre. If I squeeze my pelvic floor and engage the transverse abs like crazy, I can actually tendue without keeling over. As my belly keeps growing, my balance point changes every day — just keeps it interesting.
The past few weeks I’ve been working on a solo, Not Here Yet, which I’ll perform at my company’s season June 22-25 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. My challenge is to use the physical resources I still have to express the presence of she-who-has-not-yet-arrived. In much of my work, I’m interested in how dance can capture invisible, ineffable forces. My baby on-the-way has already created quite a happy stir in many people’s lives and it’s this stir that’s making me want to move right now.