What is it like to be a dancer... and a mother?
In April/May issue of Dance Australia, Jo Pollitt writes about dance and motherhood; the impact of being a mother on artistic practice and identity... and the affect of being an artist on one's experience of motherhood. Here she talks to independent artist Paea Leach, whose son Lhasa is 2 years old.
Paea Leach has worked predominantly in Europe and Australia. Based in Melbourne, her son Lhasa was born travelling. He has
accompanied her on a Yoga retreat to Indonesia, a tour to Avignon in France with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Eastman company and another tour to Queensland to teach for Dance North.
Leach has been performing in Cherkaoui’s Babel for five years. One the greatest markers of time passing has been the arrival of babies born to company dancers. At the end of last year she went on a final tour of Babel, performing it at the Lincoln Centre in New York, but this time left babe at home. She has been a performer and collaborator, teacher, facilitator,choreographer and company member (ADT, Chunky Move). Her interests now lie more in solo research to deepen her understanding of body, improvisation practice and methods, dramaturgic provocations and academic realms. This year she commenced a Masters by
Research (dance) at Melbourne University and is training as a Shiatsu practitioner.
“Being a mother has had an impact that I could not have imagined,” she says. “This impact has been both great and difficult. In
terms of creative process I feel sometimes like my mind is working more rigorously more often. I also feel that thoughts take longer to find their way into formed ideas, given that they are interrupted as they are forming and usually only return in late night moments of pondering or on the yoga mat when everything else is quiet. The immediate impact of dance not being in my
zone of consideration was both terrifying and liberating. Now, as my son reaches 18 months and my body feels less hijacked, I realise I can work but time is compressed. I must be efficient and less meandering.
“My body was affected strongly by the process of carrying my son and the aftermath of the birth. Of course this is normal, but I think dancers are highly sensitised to shifts and in touch with the deep resonance of change that remains long after the ‘event’ (in this case a birth).
“Becoming a mother has shifted my sense of physicality. Before, my practice was full time and highly physical. I was interested in working to my limitations via various modes of practice – yoga, improvisation, teaching, swimming. My time was predominantly spent ‘in physicality’. Now, my attention and where I am placing it is more interesting to me (or just different out of necessity). My desire to move is clear but things have changed, something is emerging from a deeper well in my body.
Caption: Paea Leach (right) in 'Babel' by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet. Photo: Maarten Vanden Abeele
“This desire or intuition toward moving is less needy and less interested in pushing and proving and more interested in concentrated work for short spans of time; as well as sophisticated attentions to embodiment, breath and regeneration. It is in response to deep changes in my actual body and structure and a need to find a way to keep moving given greatly shifted amounts of strength, flexibility and accessibility.
“A different determination began to take root in my body. This was fueled by some desperation to not ‘lose’ everything I felt I had developed over a long time – my fit and able body, identity, being a woman and an artist and fighting for that. Suddenly I was just another woman with a baby living in an ‘arty’ suburb pushing around a fancy pram. Initially this was defeating and I felt a bit
like I had ‘sold out’. I was vexed by how conflicted I felt about myself and my time and my practice and this small human that needed me, and enjoying being needed.
“I tried to get moving as soon as I could, to affirm to myself that not all was lost. I also refused to use my child as a reason (or focus of blame) for a paucity of body and attention. So the state I moved into was some kind of radical attention in short bursts of time to prove that I was indeed ‘different’ to other mothers.
"I wrote grant applications, I refused to go to mothers' group, I read a lot, and realised how much I was struggling to accept the new time and timelessness that was upon me. So the creative state felt more like a mad insistence I imposed on myself to fight a change that had already happened. I had to consider whether what I do (did) and how I am (was) in the world and as a dancer and mother is (was) important.
“I also realised he is of my body and so the moving is in his cellular makeup (I kept dancing almost my entire pregnancy) – and I
wanted to continue to offer him this ‘other’ world, therefore I could not abandon ship.
“I am lucky as my partner is also a freelance artist. He understands what I do and that I need to be working and moving in order to stay present and sane. I am the primary carer and definitely work less, but I also do not want to work all the time as these early years are vital and wonderful as much as they are demanding. Financially it is hard as one of us needs to not work if the other is full time on a project. The logistics can be exhausting but we are determined to make it work.
“The lessons I am learning as a mother have shifted me to a more considered place in my practice. Motherhood has opened my
view more as a person in the world maybe, which for me feeds back into the studio and into my body; has allowed me to be more
patient, less needing to know right now. I'm possibly happier with transitory states, with things not quite being completed and being interrupted. I think it has changed my sense of time mostly, expanding that.”
Top: Paea Leach in her work one and one and one, created for the 2016 Keir Choreographic Award. In the background is Sydney based performance poet Candy Royalle. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
This interview was first published in the April/May 2017 issue of Dance Australia as part of a feature entitled "Dance Mums" by Jo Pollitt. The feature also includes interviews with Brooke Widdison-Jacobs (West Australian Ballet) and Muriel Hillion Toulcanon (independent artist). A fourth interview with independent emerging artist, Sophia Natale may be read here.