PROVO — At the beginning of her pregnancy, Heather Francis described herself as fearful and in denial. She wasn't necessarily scared of pregnancy or delivery, but of becoming invisible in her career as a dancer.
"As a dancer and as a performer, you want to be seen," Francis, adjunct faculty in Brigham Young University's Dance Department, told the Deseret News. "People might shy away from involving me in artistic work or collaboration because I'm limited in movement or maybe emotionally or mentally distracted by preparation. Pregnancy is all-consuming, but art is my life."
Keely Song Glenn, BYU assistant professor of dance, calmed her co-worker's fears when she invited Francis to participate in an all-pregnant cast of dancers she was putting together. Seven pregnant women — all due between May 5 and June 24 — will perform "Claim" as part of the dance department's Senior Projects and Faculty Works at BYU.
For Francis, the dance was a turning point. It helped her accept her life change and become excited about her role as a mother and artist.
Glenn is a mother of three, and her inspiration for "Claim" came from her own experiences with pregnancy.
"When I was pregnant and (later when) I was going through postpartum and having this identity crisis, I didn't have the support I needed. … I wanted to be seen. I wanted to create art," Glenn said.
At first, Glenn only planned on making a video of the dance, and not a live performance. In the end, it was the mothers who asked her if they could perform "Claim," along with making the video.
"I was elated. I didn't want to put that pressure on them to be on stage, (to) be vulnerable, have mistakes made and have people see it without the editing," Glenn said. "But I think that goes to show there's a deep yearning to be seen."
The women continued to surprise her throughout their preparation for the performance. Glenn said the choreography was a very collaborative process. Often the dancers suggested movements she didn't know they were capable of.
Though there are some limitations or differences with the pregnant body, Francis said these only pushed them creatively.
"My belly, as it got bigger, I couldn't lean forward as much anymore. So that limitation just causes me … to choose something that I wouldn't have done before. And often, as an artist, you are always looking to innovate and to create new things. So, being forced out of your habits is good," Francis said.
BYU dance student Jenessa Berg is another member of the cast and a third-time mom. Growing up as the daughter of a dance teacher and musician, Berg couldn't picture life without dancing. But she, along with other members of the cast, encountered an expectation to remain stationary while pregnant.
"Mothers and dancers have always been viewed as two separate things. Like we can't be a mother and a dancer at the same time," Berg said. "My experience through dancing through my pregnancies and as I've had young children has been that dance really enhances my mothering. And I see it as such a useful tool in being a more healthy mother and a more fun mother."
Changing this perception of pregnancy and mothers was one of Glenn's goals. It was important that all seven members of the cast be pregnant because Glenn hopes this will help the audience see them as dancers and artists rather than focusing only on their pregnancy.
Another goal for Glenn was offering the creative outlet and support to pregnant women that she didn't have when she was pregnant. To make this possible, she limited rehearsal time to once a week for two hours, offered child care and paid the dancers a small compensation. Since many young mothers have limited time and finances, she wanted to clear as many barriers as she could.
Glenn believes this support is much-needed in the dance world. As Berg said, motherhood and dance are often seen separately. Glenn has met many mothers who give up dance entirely, feeling like they don't have another option.
"It's difficult for them to watch a dance (or a) performance. … They wish they were on the stage. … It might become very painful to watch dancers when so many of them stop dance altogether. They stop dancing (and) they stop watching dances because it's so painful."3 comments on this story
Glenn hopes this performance will be a step in creating a dance community where mothers are welcome to keep dancing during and after pregnancy. But offering support is not just about dancers, it applies to mothers in all walks of life.
She said the first step in supporting mothers is allowing them to say "yes" to opportunities like "Claim."
"Giving them the opportunity to explore who they are beyond the walls of the home. … Giving them permission to explore," she said.
If you go …
What: BYU Dance Department's Senior Projects and Faculty Works
Where: Richards Building Theater, 15 Field House Drive, Provo
When: March 29-30, 7:30 p.m.
How much: free