ABT's Baby Boom: Balancing Pregnancy and Parenthood with a High Stakes Ballet Career
On the last day of America Ballet Theatre’s 2018 tour of The Nutcracker in Costa Mesa, California, corps member Alexandra Basmagy couldn’t hold it in any longer. She broke the news to fellow corps members Gemma Bond and Lauren Post that she and her husband are expecting a little boy in August.
Basmagy was not the first ABT dancer to announce her pregnancy this season—principal Gillian Murphy revealed in December that she and her husband Ethan Stiefel were expecting a boy—nor would she be the last. Post’s own announcement soon followed! Artistic director Kevin McKenzie burst out laughing when she told him the news, Post says. “He was like, ‘It always happens in threes. Since Gillian told me and then Alex, I’ve been waiting for the last shoe to drop.'”
There is a veritable baby boom at ABT—Gemma Bond, corps member Alexei Agoudine, soloist Luciana Paris and soloist Thomas Forster are all new parents, and Murphy gave birth to her son, Ax Nathaniel, last month. Basmagy and Post are both in their third trimesters, with due dates on August 5th and August 19, respectively. Pointe interviewed these two moms-to-be, and then caught up with Forster and Paris, to learn how they navigate pregnancy and parenthood alongside a ballet career.
Barre to Baby, and Expectations in Between
Basmagy at 8 months pregnant.
Raquel Beauchamp, courtesy ABT.
What has it been like going through your pregnancies all together?
I feel like it’s been so helpful to have Gemma and Luciana to show that yes, you can continue your career and have a child. Because for a while, there weren’t many moms at ABT. Going through the pregnancy with Alex and Gillian has been hugely helpful. We compare notes like, “Is this normal?” It’s very reassuring.
What were some of the first changes you noticed in your dancing?
Arabesque was one of the first things that felt different. All of a sudden you have this big stretch across the front of your stomach, so my arabesque started getting lower and lower. And getting up onto pointe, because of all the extra weight that’s on your body.
Are you planning to dance up until your delivery?
My goal for the past few weeks has been to be in class twice a week, at least. There have been some days where I’m too tired and don’t want to push it. You have to listen to your body.
In theory, I would like to dance up until I’m in labor, but I don’t know how feasible that is. ABT stops in July, so I think it’s going to be harder to find the motivation when we don’t have a company class we can easily come to. Gillian was here probably until she was 37 or 38 weeks pregnant, which is really amazing.
Are you doing baby showers with the company?
Yeah! Mine was in June with the ABT ladies.
Mine’s in July.
And we did one for Gillian, too.
As cheesy as it sounds, ABT really is a family. Everyone’s been so supportive and interested and wants to be involved in the pregnancy.
Is the company flexible about when you’ll come back?
Yes. Kevin encourages us to wait at least four months after the baby is born. He said, “I really think you need that time to bond with your baby.” Which is very gracious.
Do you receive paid leave?
We go on disability, so we get a disability payment.
That’s through our AGMA contract. It’s something we’re trying to work on to be a little better.
Especially because as dancers we can’t work up until our due date, so we end up going on maternity leave much sooner. It’s a long time to go without full pay, but you make it work.
How are you approaching cross-training before and after delivery?
I train with Joel Prouty, a personal trainer and former dancer with Boston Ballet. He’s certified in pre- and post-natal recovery and training. I’m definitely facing some limitations now.
I’ve tried some prenatal yoga classes and our massage therapist here taught us a prenatal workout. Some days it’s just like I need to get up and walk around my neighborhood a bit.
It’s so inspiring to see you both going through this. I think a lot of young dancers think it’s not possible to do both, so having people to look up to is amazing.
It’s been inspiring for us to see women from other companies, too. A lot of them are active on social media about their pregnancy and coming back. I’m good friends with Ashley Ellis at Boston Ballet, and I also follow Allison Debona from Ballet West. And across the plaza here we saw Megan Fairchild and Ashley Bouder go through it all. So you see women who are making it happen, and they’re not shy about the complications either, about how hard it can be.
Thomas Forster: Dancer Dad
For soloist Thomas Forster, adjustments to parenthood abound, even if they aren’t as physically demanding as pregnancy is for women. He and his wife Leann, a former ABT dancer turned teacher and stay-at-home mom, welcomed their son Benjamin two years ago.
Forster admits that being away from his son while on tour is very difficult. “Especially now that he’s at the age where he knows,” says Forster. “He’s like, ‘Oh dad’s gone, bye bye.’ We just had a tour where I was away for three weeks and that was pretty tough. The more I’m away from him, the more distant he becomes. But then in a day or two we’re right back in our dad-son relationship.”
Though it might seem like Forster’s energy would be spread thin, becoming a dad has actually given him more focus in all areas of his life. “Before I had a kid I was very much a sleepy-head and daydreamer, but once you’re called to action you just snap out of it,” he explains. “If anything, I’m on less sleep now but I’m way more energetic. It just changes you. You can’t be lazy anymore because there’s a whole life that needs your support. So you get out there and you do it.”
Luciana Paris: Ballet After Birth
When ABT soloist Luciana Paris found out she was pregnant with her now one-year-old son Benicio, she did something surprising: she allowed herself the option to come back to ABT or not. “I thought, maybe this is it for me at ABT,” says Paris. “Maybe once I’m back I’ll do some freelancing or dance with a smaller company.”
She took it easy early on, asking for a release from ABT during the first trimester. “I was really exhausted at the beginning,” she says. But after giving birth, she found herself missing the studio, the stage and her colleagues. “I wasn’t expecting to be able to combine motherhood with being a soloist at ABT. It’s a lot of work. But I’m very lucky.”
Paris returned to performing after four months, with the philosophy that she wasn’t “coming back” to ballet, but rather moving forward. “I didn’t put pressure on myself to try to be what I was before giving birth,” she says. She and husband Jonatan Lujan, a freelance dancer who has worked with companies in Europe and South America, have found a nanny schedule that works. She breastfed whenever she was home and pumped at work, and adds that her son is luckily a good little sleeper.
Overall, Paris’s approach to balancing career and motherhood has been incredibly positive, and she doesn’t feel her maternity leave was a sacrifice. “I built a life and I have this little human being who I have to take care of. And on top of that I’m also able to take care of myself and enjoy myself onstage. It’s such a wonderful fulfillment.”