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On the Ground

Dancing into Parenthood

By Grace Smith
  • Tracey Norman with daughter Pearl and students of York University / Photo by Raphael Roter

With more artists continuing to dance after starting families, affordable and appropriate childcare options have become an important issue for the dance community. The Dance Current spoke with dance artists about their tips and suggestions for childcare.

Managing the cost

A study released in 2016 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) found that childcare costs, which had risen by more than three times the rate of inflation since 2014, were most expensive in Toronto and Vancouver, and least expensive in Québec City and Winnipeg. 

Full-time daycare options can be difficult to secure and cost as much as $1000 to $1700 per month for infant care in major cities, though Québec’s provincially subsidized childcare can be as low as $164 per month. 

Instead, dance artists interviewed by The Dance Current tend to enroll in part-time daycare, while employing a babysitter for care during non-business hours. Babysitters typically charge between twelve and fifteen dollars an hour. Consequently, many dancers try to create a network of family members and close friends who can also help. 

Some environments have become more inclusive of parent and their children. “One day,” recalls Liisa Smith, dance teacher, co-artistic director of Random Acts of Dance and mother of two, “I had a baby in a carrier on my front and one strapped to my back as I choreographed.” “I have been known to take my children with me to theatres and performances,” says Erin McFadden, owner and director of Tandem Studios. “They learn quickly to adapt!” 

Dancers emphasize the professional benefits of childcare, despite the costs. “I think the hardest part is rationalizing that paying for childcare so you can rehearse, teach, write applications, answer emails, is a worthy cause,” says Tracey Norman, a Toronto-based choreographer, performer, teacher and mother, “but my work is important and I need to make space for it even if I’m not always making money in the moments we are paying for childcare.”

Heather MacPhail, independent dance artist and mother of one, with her second on the way, suggests sharing babysitters and childcare time with other parents. “When I was dancing in the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2015,” she says, “the choreographer also had a child and we shared a babysitter for rehearsal days, significantly reducing the cost for both of us.”

Scheduling in advance

Finding consistent childcare and making the most efficient use of paid childcare time is important. For performances and other evening and weekend commitments, the key is to plan in advance, relying on a combination of family members, friends and babysitters. MacPhail tries to make the most efficient use of her childcare time. “Book as much as you can while you have a sitter,” she counsels. “Keep an updated to-do list that you can refer to when you have downtime while a sitter is on the clock.” 

Norman suggests using the scheduling skills developed as a dance artist for parenting. “We have our schedule down to a fine art,” she says, “and sometimes an integral part of the puzzle gets pulled out and we just have to be flexible.”

Embracing an evolving career

By nature, dance artists are personally involved with their work, and parenthood has often changed the course of an artist’s career. According to Smith, career choices and decisions become more focused as parents lose the ability to say yes to everything. “There are days you feel frustrated that you are not able to do more,” says Smith, “but I have found that I am more grounded and clear about what I need to get done and what I want to get done.”

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Tracey Norman with daughter Pearl and students of York University / Photo by Raphael Roter

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