At the beginning of the pandemic, one of Megan Fairchild’s former dance teachers gave her some advice: Now would be a really great time to get pregnant. Fairchild, a principal at New York City Ballet, was aghast.
“I was like, that’s a ridiculous idea and the last thing on my mind right now,” she said. “This is going to last a couple months, and I don’t want to not be there when we get back.”
But as days turned into weeks and months, she began to experience another emotion: anger. It was clear that her kind of live performance, dancing for thousands at Lincoln Center, would not be resuming anytime soon. Fairchild, a planner, always wanted to give her young daughter a sibling so that she could experience a relationship like she has with her dancer-brother, Robbie Fairchild.
She did the math. The pandemic pause plus another pregnancy, if they didn’t overlap, would add up to two-and-a-half years off the stage. “It started to make me super mad about the fact that I have to take a full year off from my career — my short career already — as the woman in the parenting situation to bring a child into the world.”
For much of the pandemic year, Fairchild, 36, was pregnant — with twins. (On April 10, she gave birth to two girls.) The decision to have another child came to her in three words when she was meditating: Do it now. “I didn’t think I was ready,” she said, “but the idea of just doing it now kind of solved all my problems.”
Now Fairchild is irritated that she wasted so much time. “I wish I got pregnant in March!” she said.
She’s not the only one to have taken advantage of the theatrical shutdown. The dance world is experiencing a full-blown baby boom. “This has just been something to lift us up and give us new energy,” said Brittany Pollack, 32, a City Ballet soloist, who is expecting a girl in September with her husband, Jonathan Stafford, the company’s artistic director.
A dance career is relatively short, and so is the window for a dancer to have a child. It usually happens later in a career when stage credits or time with a company is already established. So while the baby boom is a joyful outcome to a terrible situation, it also brings to light the real struggle that many dancers, particularly women, face in deciding whether and when to start a family.
“It’s like, the world’s ending,” Heather Lang, a cast member of “Jagged Little Pill,” said. “Here you go, here’s your chance.”
The pandemic has afforded dancers, including Lang, who had her second child during the shutdown, something rare: time — to be away from performing and then to get back into dancing shape. “I don’t have to sacrifice another year of contemplating, should I stop now?” said Erica Pereira, a soloist at City Ballet who is currently pregnant. “Should I have the baby? It’s like a blessing in disguise.”
The roster of new and expecting mothers bears this out: In recent weeks, Ingrid Silva of Dance Theater of Harlem; Teresa Reichlen of City Ballet; and Stephanie Williams and Zhong-Jing Fang of American Ballet Theater have had babies. Ballet Theater’s Lauren Post, who has a young daughter, is pregnant with a boy.
Justin Peck, the resident choreographer and artistic adviser of City Ballet, and his wife, the dancer Patricia Delgado, welcomed a daughter on March 29. (And the phenomenon extends beyond New York; the Royal Ballet in London has also seen a baby boom.)
In addition to Lang, several Broadway dancers have had children in recent months: Ashley Blair Fitzgerald (“The Cher Show”), Khori Petinaud (“Moulin Rouge! The Musical”) and Lauren Yalango-Grant, who, at 34 weeks pregnant, was part of the cast of the coming film “Tick, Tick … Boom!” Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the movie features choreography by the forward-thinking Ryan Heffington.
“They were supportive of me being pregnant, which I think was really awesome because I think generally women who work have a hard time with pregnancy,” Yalango-Grant said. “It’s very hard to have a child and then manage coming back. And especially for performers and dancers, it’s a struggle — and we’re not really set up for success.”
Dancers at Ballet Theater and City Ballet receive parental leave through their union contracts; the amount of paid time off varies per company, contract and the circumstances of the birth. Generally, on Broadway, performers get their spots saved — unpaid — for up to a year.
Petinaud had decided to have a child before the shutdown happened — “Moulin Rouge!” seemed like a show that would last — and while she was in great shape, she said, her body was also depleted from the Broadway schedule. “It is really a challenge to make space and room for any sort of balance outside of your career when you’re a dancer or performer,” she said. “You get a job and you’re like, great — I’m going to do that job. Because you don’t know when the next thing is going to be. And that’s usually to the detriment of your significant other, or missing weddings, funerals and babies.”
Even with help, it’s hard. Lang, who has two children, knows that the support of her husband and family makes it all possible. A dancer’s schedule — fluctuating rehearsal schedules during the day, performances at night — can make family time difficult. How sustainable is it to have a baby while balancing eight shows a week? What if a Broadway show had two casts or fewer shows?
Many hope the culture can change. “The culture is fear, you know?” Lang said. “It’s like, oh my God, I can’t call out — I’ll lose my job.” Dancers go along with that culture to hold onto roles. “That, to me, has got to go,” Lang added. “I know it’s rampant in the ballet world — it’s rampant everywhere.”
At the start of the pandemic, Reichlen, who is 36 years old and a principal at City Ballet, decided to take three months off dancing. She hadn’t had a break in 20 years; then, when those three months were over, she found out she was pregnant. She tried to keep up her training, like others in the company, by dancing in her living room. “To be perfectly honest, I hated that,” she said. “It’s just terrible.”
At 5’ 9,” Reichlen said she didn’t have enough space; if she fell, she might hit her head on the kitchen counter. And she started to feel the pregnancy. “My body just felt weird,” she said. “And I was like, you know what? I think I’m done.”
Now that her son is born, she’s grateful that she has had time to pace herself as she gets back into shape. But with or without a baby, the landscape of the company will have changed and that can’t help but affect her dancing, too. “What are the dynamics going to be like when we get back?” she said. “We haven’t had just the pandemic. We’ve had all this social unrest, we’ve had the election. There’s just been so much that’s happened in the last year and then I also have a baby.”
With a laugh, Reichlen said, “I mean, first of all, I’m just like, how do I get out of the house?”
All dancers will have to get back into fighting shape, but there are bigger challenges for new mothers. Pregnancy, of course, adds weight; it also changes the alignment of the body.
Kristin Sapienza, a doctor of physical therapy who has worked with dancers including Fairchild, said, “The muscles in the pelvic floor are taking on a lot of pressure and being stretched out.” Those muscles need to be recoordinated. And there is also the possibility of diastasis recti, “when the rectus abdominal muscles actually split apart, and during pregnancy it’s to make room for the baby,” Sapienza said.
The linea alba, which runs down the midline of the abdomen and connects the muscles, is “essentially like a piece of Saran Wrap, so you have to do the work to close that back up,” Sapienza continued. “For dancers, you need a solid core foundation to achieve the perfect movement at the perfect moment — you need that core stability.”
Post, who dealt, she said, with postpartum mood disorder and depression after her first pregnancy, has been documenting her current one on Instagram to show that there are ups and downs. She said before having her first child, she was naïve and thought, “Oh, I’ll have a newborn, it’s going to be magical and so sweet.” The reality hit her hard. “Your entire life changes overnight,” she said, “and all of a sudden I didn’t have my job. I didn’t have my friends in the way that I was used to. It’s a whole physical and emotional toll that I think could be more supported.”
That first delivery was smooth and straightforward, Post said, so she was shocked at how hard it felt to come back. “I don’t think I did my first ballet barre until after three months postpartum,” she said. “And in my mind I was like, I’ll be cleared for physical activity at six weeks, and I’ll get back into a gentle barre, but no. I didn’t feel ready. I know everyone’s experience is different, but I just felt like my body and musculature had completely changed.”
Silva, a veteran of Dance Theater of Harlem, spent her entire pregnancy dancing — her daughter was born on the Friday of her 39th week — and she’s eager to return, she said, “but with a different understanding of my body and different feelings, different artistic moments.”
She added: “After giving birth to a baby, you feel like you can conquer anything. I can’t wait to be back onstage and see what’s going to happen.”
Fang, too, knows that her daughter, Zia, will change not only how she dances but also her approach to artistry. “My husband is African-American, and now there is the Stop Asian Hate movement and I’m of Chinese heritage,” Fang, 37, said. “How are we going to raise Zia as a biracial child for this generation? What is my responsibility as a dancer myself to this new role as a mother?”
As an artist, she said, that responsibility is to convey the truth in an honest and graceful way. “I view my role as a mother in this same light,” she said. “In the classical ballet stories, there is always light and darkness. It will be important for Zia to understand that this is also the way of the world. As a dancer and choreographer, I love conveying that darkness is always overtaken by light. And that’s what I’m going to teach my daughter.”
In having someone else to take care of, a dancer’s performance quality can change. Watching dancers who have recently had children can be a thrill: The stage is their time to be alone, and they’re not about to squander it. They live it. Stafford has noticed that dancers often come back as better artists after having a child. “Maybe that extra human being in your life just brings out something in you that wouldn’t come out otherwise in your artistry onstage,” he said, adding of Fairchild: “I mean Megan danced the best she’s ever danced since coming back from her first child.”
And she is ready to do so again. But she didn’t have an easy time with her second pregnancy; at 26 weeks, she started to have preterm labor concerns. Doctors watch women pregnant with twins like a hawk, Fairchild said. She was forced to rest, to lay down on the couch “for as many hours a day as possible,” she said. “For a dancer, it feels disgusting. I feel gross.”
That was in mid-March. At the start of April, when Fairchild was 35 weeks pregnant, we spoke again after she, her husband and their daughter, contracted the coronavirus.
“We got Covid from my daughter’s day care and it was the one risk that we decided to take because I needed to rest,” she said.
Since the babies were fully developed, Fairchild said she was never worried about them. But it was rough. She also contracted strep throat, and she developed severe acid reflux. “I had mucus going down, acid going up and then the throat pain,” she said. “I’ve never been so miserable. And on top of it, what am I? Thirty-eight pounds heavier than normal?”
She scowled, adding, “I can’t even roll over in bed easily.”
No, Fairchild has never cared for being pregnant. (Her word for it is horrible.) But she was ready for the commotion to start. As she likes to wisecrack, she will have enough daughters to cast as the muses in George Balanchine’s “Apollo.”
“It’s going to be a loud household, and that’s what I wanted,” she said. “Before we got pregnant the first time, I said to my husband, ‘It’s too quiet in our house.’ I want life. I want someone to come wake us up in the morning and crawl into bed. And so it’s going to be this wild party. I hate, hate being alone. I’ll probably never be alone again for a really long time.”
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