In late 2020, New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild came to the jarring realization that she was going to waste precious years of her career waiting out a pandemic. So, she got started on a few other life goals she had in the meantime: adding to her family tree. “I didn’t want to get through the pandemic and back onto the stage and feel like the clock was ticking to give my [3-year-old] child a sibling,” Fairchild says. “I wanted to take advantage of the empty time, and kind of overachieved—I had twins!”
Though Fairchild is not new to motherhood, pregnancy during a pandemic came with an extra amount of difficulty than usual. “The stress of what was happening in the world, plus the hormones, and having a child without childcare because daycares were closed was really hard,” Fairchild says. Just as daycares finally reopened, and Fairchild felt the relief of added support, her daughter contracted COVID and passed it on to the rest of the family. “I was 32 weeks pregnant, with COVID,” Fairchild says. “I was miserable going through cycles of body aches and fever. I literally called my OB and asked if I was allowed to put Tiger Balm all over my body—she didn’t advise it.” Thankfully she and her family all survived the experience, and Fairchild gave birth to two healthy babies in April 2021.
In September 2021, NYCB returned to Lincoln Center for the first time in a year and a half, and Fairchild was overjoyed even though she had to go through the difficult process of healing her body to return to the stage: “The pandemic was so physically and emotionally taxing, but I’m just so happy to be doing my job again,” she says. Surprisingly, Fairchild has found that she has even more energy than usual to be in rehearsals and onstage. “My life is complicated right now, so when I go to work, it’s my ‘me time’ and I try to soak it all up,” she says. “It might seem crazy, but it’s incredible to live a life that’s filled with motherhood and dance. My time is really valuable right now, so I’m going to make sure everything I do is worth it.”
Here, Fairchild shares her thoughts on returning to dance post-pregnancy, how the past year and a half has influenced her dancing, her most influential teacher and more.
On her process for returning to dance post-pregnancy: “I’ve been through a pregnancy before this one, so I knew what to look out for. I wore an extended brace to support my belly, and as I began to heal post-birth, things moved surprisingly quickly. I didn’t do anything other than walk for those first six weeks. Then when I got the go-ahead from my doctor, I trained as much as my body let me. It took a while for my hips to move correctly, but I took advantage of a great postpartum physical therapist to help me out. I did a lot of Gyrotonic, Pilates, swimming, ballet barres in the pool, etc. Then NYCB tried to get the entire company back into shape, by offering what ended up being two months of a summer program. We were pros working like students. They offered class at three different times of the day, plus variations and partnering. It was amazing! It really helped me come back feeling strong.”
On how the past year and a half has informed her views on dancing: “I just think that I’m less jaded. I practice gratitude because I know what the alternative is. I know what it feels like to dance on concrete. I’m just so happy to have an audience to perform for. It fuels our energy in such a real way. The pandemic has taught all of us how lucky we are that we get to do what we love for a living. Despite the challenges, this career is so worth it. My heart just keeps growing. I feel expansive, and am living everything to the fullest. I am alive and present!”
The most helpful training tip she’s received: “In Gyrotonic, I learned that when you turn out, the femur should have space all around it in the hip socket. For many dancers, as we make an effort to turn out, we push forward and smush it into the head of your hip. If I think of having space, I am able to keep my weight forward, and turn out with strength that isn’t artificially created by forcing bone on bone. Gyro has changed how I hold myself and how I dance in so many ways. I’ve been doing it since I was 30, and I couldn’t do without it.”
Her most influential teacher: “Merrill Ashley! All you want to do in a professional company, especially when you’re young, is please the people above you, and Merrill is a hard person to please because she’s such a perfectionist in every way. She was there as I made the transition from student to professional, and was able to catch me and other dancers if we slipped into lazy habits. She’s such a well-thought-out-dancer herself, and to have started my career with the mindset that there are 10,000 things to think about while doing every step (which she instilled in me) was crucial. It served me well as I expanded working on my artistry.”
Her take on corrections: “In my career I’ve learned to take all corrections with a grain of salt. Any well-meaning correction can be overdone. You are never supposed to do anything to an extreme, but as students we often overshoot our corrections because we want so badly to please the teacher. I went through a period where I had to make sure the way I was taking corrections wasn’t sabotaging my performance.”
Her advice for those aspiring to a career like hers: “Don’t be disheartened by social media. If you don’t have a ton of followers, it doesn’t mean anything. Trust the people around you. Don’t think too globally about it. Keep your world small, keep your head down and work hard.”
P.S. Did you know that beyond parenthood and stunning audiences with her mesmerizing technique and artistry, Fairchild is also adding “author” to her long list of titles? Next month she’s releasing a book called The Ballerina Mindset, which shares her wisdom on subjects like overcoming anxiety, becoming well rounded, learning how to push yourself appropriately and more. You can also watch Fairchild perform with NYCB in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker now through January 2. There’s no doubt, this multifaceted artist can do it all!