This session was called by Susie Crow; meanwhile, the group next to it ended up discussing motherhood and childcare as well.

Convened by Susie Crow
Participants: Mary, Daisy, Rhiannon, Susie.

Motherhood is frequently cited as a major hurdle in debates about women choreographers, because of the inevitable career break occasioned by giving birth, and on-going childcare issues and expense falling disproportionately on choreographers who are mothers as opposed to fathers.  My reason for convening this was a desire to look not simply at the immediate issues around having young children but to take a long view.  Mary and I both have children in their 20s and parenting does not stop once children go to school; similarly choreography needs to be seen as a lifetime career and should not have to stop with the arrival of children.  An ideal would be for women to be able to take time out to parent in the knowledge that they can resume their creative work later potentially enriched by their experience.

Mary cited examples of experience and networks to help parents working in the arts, and highlight the problems they face:

• Mathilde Leyser of Improbably Theatre programme “Mothers Who Make”

• Parents in Performing Arts campaign PIPA

Rhiannon provides a case study as an emerging choreographer in her early 30s; having built a career over 15 years she is now making a name for herself with a successful show on tour which she has made and in which she performs.  She is also married and would like to have a child, but is concerned that taking a break to have a family will end her professional career.  There would be a need to be off the circuit for a while with young children; but a great fear of the risk of doing that.

Discussion raised some general observations and particular aspects of parenting to take into account, such as:

• Most of the problems identified by the networks mentioned were framed around the needs of small children.

• How do you parent? The need to remain mindful of the needs of the children.

• It is different having more than one child.

• You cannot plan the arrival of a baby.

Views and situations of men vs women in this debate:

• Culture perceived to be male-led; male decision makers seen not to care about women’s issues eg the Tampon tax.

• Difference between male and female career trajectories.  Men are able to keep career momentum going while women have children; men have an unbroken line of progression where women’s is broken.  

• Women’s trajectories are different, perhaps more cyclical.

• In all this man is seen as the norm.


Different cultural attitudes towards children and family models:

• Susie reflected from her experience with small children in Spain of the extended family unit, where many relatives were able to share the burdens of childcare.  In the UK the family is often envisaged as the modular family of parents and offspring, leaving the parents with the bulk of parenting and upbringing responsibilities.  Arguably this particularly burdens the mother as working woman.

• There is a need to find ways to restructure working schedules to accommodate the timetables imposed by motherhood/parenthood.

• Examples of the integration of children into work were discussed (babies in rehearsal rooms, small children backstage in theatres – how possible is this?

• Example cited of company applying for grant money to cover artists’ childcare – controversial and can be seen as unfair by artists who take the decision not to have children.  This would not be necessary if artists were better paid in the first place.

• Observation that women returning to creative activity after motherhood are then caught in the ageism that affects older women generally in the arts, as well as the possible requirement to care for their own parents.


Action points:

• Campaign for better artists’ pay to make the possibility of being able to call on paid childcare as needed more realistic.

• Find strategies to support emerging women choreographers aged 30-35 years so that they can contemplate taking a motherhood break.

• Encourage a longer view of choreographic careers, and discourage prejudices that see artistic work as only for the young or for men, by actively supporting the work of mature artists.

• Explore different family-friendly work schedules.


Something to recognise and remember:

Motherhood is hard work – but well worth it.