“Women are put on the pedestal of motherhood in order to keep them there, out of men’s way,” said Daniel Gerwin in his article for Hyperallergic titled “Artist Residencies need to start thinking about parents” that he wrote while home with his family during the pandemic in October 2020. “Professional discrimination against pregnant women in all fields is well documented, including within the art apparatus.”
Historically, dance culture has not been kind to women, which is odd considering that most dance artists are women. To “make it” as a professional dancer, a woman must sacrifice her health and, to fit the conventional image of a dancer, be dangerously thin, white, young, compliant, and childless.
Early in my dance training back in the 90s, I understood that I could be a dancer or have a family, but I couldn’t do both. I don’t remember if someone told me this “rule” or if I imbibed it from being immersed in the culture. Probably the latter. The dancer archetype at the time was George Balanchine, who famously discouraged his dancers from marrying or having children, even though he married four of his company dancers. The message was that spouses and families get in the way of creativity. To be a good dancer, you must dedicate yourself 100%, and for 100% of the time.
I never saw pregnant dancers. I never saw dancer parents nor women returning to professional life after having kids. I remember feeling sorry for dancers who decided to stop dancing to have families; I thought that dance life must have been too hard for them, and that’s why they left. I even knew a highly gifted dancer who had been offered a job with a prominent modern dance company in New York City, but had the offer rescinded when they found out she had a child. As you can imagine, with all of that swirling around in my head, I was terrified to become a mother. And when I did become a parent, working professionally as a dancer became near impossible. If I earned any income from my art, the amount of money I made would barely cover child care and travel costs, making working pointless. And the advice I got from other women artists when I talked about how hard it was to dance and write with a four-year-old at home, especially while my husband traveled 60% of the year, was just to quit. It’s a hostile world for a single dancer and even crueler for dance artist parents. (And I know this is not unique to dancers or artists, but is a choice often forced on parents, and particularly on women, regardless of their field.)
But, thankfully, mindsets are changing, and parent artist dancers are everywhere. Myself included. Closing this gap for artist parents is a residency at Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance (PWNW) called The Alembic Parent Residency, specifically for one Portland metropolitan parent artist and one visiting parent artist from Oregon, Washington, or Idaho.
The residency, now in its second year, addresses the barriers preventing parent movement artists from engaging in intensive residencies by providing studio time, childcare support and travel, lodging, and per diem, as needed. Artists whose work is rooted in movement and/or the body, though it may involve other disciplines, are encouraged to apply.
The visiting parent artist will receive 12 consecutive studio days (up to 90 hours) in July or August 2023, as well as support for connecting to local dance artists and family-friendly events.. The local Portland metro parent artist will receive 90 studio hours, to be used as agreed upon between the artist and PWNW from June 1, 2023 and February 29, 2024.
The ideas for the parent–focused residency came from Portland artist, activist, and educator claire barrera. barrera approached Austin last year with the idea, and the Alembic Parent Residency was born.
“Being a parent is an essential part of who I am as an artist. I believe that while it can be challenging, parenting has also enriched my creative practice immensely,” she told me via email. “I’m frustrated by how parents are hedged out of the art world because they are not celebrated and accommodated. It feels like the attitude is if you have a kid, that’s your problem to solve – which is such an ableist, classist, and white supremacist way of working.”
“As a parent artist, I have found it very challenging to go to residencies that meet my needs. Most residencies don’t allow children or help with stipends for childcare. Furthermore, they are often too long – I can’t take my child out of school or leave them at home for longer than one or two weeks, and it seems like most residencies are a month or longer. On top of that, finding residencies with space appropriate for dancers makes getting an appropriate residency almost impossible!”
For more information on the residency, including application questions and criteria for selection, visit Performance Works NW. The intent to apply is preferably by Wednesday, January 11, 2023, to help the committee understand how many applicants to expect. The deadline for proposals is January 16.