Finding out you’re pregnant can be one of the most exciting experiences of your life. But it may also cause your head to spin, as you worry about what type of movements will be safe, how long you’ll be able to continue teaching and if your pregnancy will affect your business. “A lot of stress during my pregnancy was my fear that I was going to have to close my school,” says Elizabeth Fernandez-Flores, who directs the New American Youth Ballet in New York City and had her first child in December. To help ease worries, we gathered advice on what to expect when expecting and how to safely continue teaching.
Listen to your body.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that all healthy pregnant women exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, adding that women who are used to more active lifestyles can continue their training throughout their pregnancy. But there are a few exercise body positions that could prove harmful. Experts advise cutting out back-based exercises, which can elevate your heart rate, and movements that might cause you to strain or injure your abdomen, like jumping. Being aware of normal body changes and how they will affect your teaching can also prevent injury.
When you become pregnant, your body will gradually increase the level of hormones it produces, such as relaxin, elastin, estrogen and progesterone, causing the connective tissues around your joints to soften and become less stable. While this change increases the chance of falling, says Dr. Shelly Holmstrom, a gynecologist at the University of South Florida in Tampa, it is a plus for stretching. “It was like I was on another planet or something,” says Heather Berest, (DT cover, June 2007) co-director of the Berest Dance Center in Port Washington, NY. “I would be demonstrating, not warmed up or anything, but I could développé up to my ear.” You might love your new super-stretching ability, but it’s important to avoid movements that can overstretch your ligaments and put extra stress on your pubic bone, such as deep grand pliés or those in a wide second position.
Deborah Vogel, a dance instructor at Oberlin College, mother of three and co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine in NYC, has a few suggestions for safe stretching during pregnancy. “As the baby gets bigger, the pull on your lower back is significant,” she said in an issue of her Dancing Smart Newsletter. “So the one stretch you cannot stop doing is some form of iliopsoas stretching.” To make muscles looser around the pelvis, she added, incorporate ball work into exercises that stretch the pubic area. She also recommended doing standing hamstring stretches with one leg placed on a chair, since rolling down the spine will become almost impossible. “Being pregnant is an amazing process that you are engaged with,” Vogel said. “But listening to your body is key.”
Avoid fighting exhaustion.
Sometimes a bigger challenge for expectant dance teachers than risking injury is coping with exhaustion. “Your body is making another person, and that takes a lot of energy,” Holmstrom says. Make sure to get plenty of rest to stay energized and healthy throughout the pregnancy. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, especially when experiencing leg aches or swollen feet. In fact, Berest says sitting down more and demonstrating less actually improved her teaching. “Before, I was a performer and tried to be inspirational with my body,” she says. “But when I was pregnant, I had to learn how to better communicate. My eye developed so much more, and that’s where my skill really increased.”
Keep a few veteran students or assistant teachers on hand to demonstrate or take over class, to help even more when feeling fatigued. Fernandez-Flores says that having an older student assist with class made all the difference for her younger students. Classes will be easier for you to cue from the front of the room. Try giving them a combination they already know, or just let them improvise while you rest.
Welcome weight gain and eat smart.
Although normal, gaining weight during pregnancy can be another source of anxiety for some dance professionals. Gail Abrams, a dance professor at Scripps College in Claremont, California, has given numerous presentations about teaching while pregnant. She once spoke with a ballet dancer who tried to conceal her pregnancy by eating nothing more than a yogurt and an apple a day, because she was afraid of losing her job. Her baby was born in distress. “I think it’s important for women to recognize that your body is supposed to gain weight,” says Abrams. “It’s important to gain sustenance not only for you, but for your baby.”
Holmstrom says that women with a normal body mass index should gain at least 25 to 35 pounds. She recommends eating an extra 100 calories a day during the first trimester and 300 extra calories a day during the remaining trimesters. Eating foods rich in complex carbohydrates and protein will help increase your blood glucose levels, which tend to be lower during pregnancy, according to the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. Also, remember to drink plenty of water, as dehydration is a known cause of premature labor, says the AFAA. But experts agree that it’s most important to listen to your doctor’s advice when it comes to your personal diet. For Berest, her obstetrician insisted she fatten up by eating potato chips and mayonnaise. The slender Berest gained a whopping 57 pounds, and she welcomed a very healthy baby boy in 2007.
As for losing the post-pregnancy weight, Abrams says that it should come off fairly easily two months to a year after delivery. And she warns that rapid weight loss can often be more jarring to dance teachers than the slow weight gain during pregnancy. “I suggest that you go back to exercising and teaching very, very gently and very, very slowly,” she says. DT
Lauren Heist is a former dance critic for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and is now based in Evanston, IL.