The evolving journey of the body and its accompanying health implications through pregnancy could hamper a woman’s professional path. All the more true if her occupation demands physical exertion. Mumbai-based Bharatanatyam practitioner Meera Sreenarayanan faced this challenge with determination while trying to juggle her successful dancing career through two pregnancies. The challenge was to safeguard the health and well-being of herself and her babies while going through the rigors of classical dance. By succeeding in the journey, she showed the world that the dance stage and the maternity ward need not be separate chapters in a woman’s life.
“I can’t thank my teacher enough for being the best support in my postpartum journey, both physically and emotionally,” she captioned while posting a video when her 11-month-old daughter Kaisiki Sandeep accompanied her dance practice session for the first time.
Each time she is asked about her dance journey during her pregnancies, which happened in 2020 and 2022 respectively, Sreenarayanan elaborates on the unwavering support she received from her spouse, Sandeep Suresh Menon, parents, teachers, and colleagues. That support is key for any woman, says the founder of Tatdhii Arts and Learning, an endeavor to expand the influence of art and aesthetics into all walks of life.
Dancing through pregnancy, the challenges
Sreenarayanan was ecstatic about her first pregnancy and continued dancing until the eighth month, taking the necessary safety measures.
“The first pregnancy went very smoothly with my family. I continued dancing till the eighth month which placed me in an incredibly good state both mentally and physically,” says Sreenarayanan. “During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, all my programs were online. Thankfully, I did online programs till the eighth month.”
While her first pregnancy and delivery proceeded without a hitch, she faced a few challenges with the second one. When she found out she was expecting her second child, Sreenarayanan had already begun her stage performances. Her first child, Thumri Sandeep was just one and a half years old then.
This time she stopped dancing in the sixth month of her pregnancy because she was not in a pleasant state of mind to dance. “Even though I chose not to dance, I was constantly thinking of it, working on choreographies, etc. which helped me to stay connected to dance,” adds Sreenarayanan.
Pregnancy added to the weight which unsettled her. She gave birth to her second child in November 2022 and some complications during the delivery resulted in a spasm in the muscle around the tailbone. This troubled her postpartum phase. Ayurveda treatment and massage aided the recovery process.
Dancing in the prenatal phase
Sreenarayanan continued dancing till the eighth and sixth months of her first and second pregnancies respectively. As she was concerned about the safety of her babies, she altered her dance routine significantly to suit her changing body.
“Everything was based on how my body felt. Before pregnancy, I usually danced even after I was exhausted. However, I had concerns about my health and body during my pregnancy. I paused and resumed to dance whenever I felt tired,” says Sreenarayanan, who has won multiple awards in her career – from kalathilakam titles during college to performance commendations in various dance festivals in India and abroad.
“I made some modifications in dance; I avoided jumps, jerky movements and sitting and falling movements on the ground,” she adds. “While doing the Aramandi position [fundamental stance in Bharatanatyam, characterized by a half-sitting position with knees turned outward and heels joined together] I never pushed myself to open the legs completely. Instead, I made my feet positioned in a V shape to not hurt myself.”
Sreenarayanan focused on educating herself about pregnancy during the prenatal phase. She thinks deeper knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth is crucial because it empowers mothers to make informed decisions about their health and delivery.
Postpartum phase and dancing
In the postpartum period, Sreenarayanan adopted two different approaches to get back into shape and dance. It is required to take three months of rest after delivery. After three months of her first delivery, she resumed her yoga practice for six months and started practicing the Adavus (fundamental dance steps in Bharatanatyam). In the tenth month, she began practicing Kalarippayattu. Putting no pressure on herself, she gradually started doing dance programs again.
Sreenarayanan followed a different post-partum recovery regimen after the second delivery. This time, she began strength training following the mandatory three months of rest.
Pursuing dance as a mother
Being a mother of two opened new dimensions for Sreenarayanan as a dancer. She believes that empathy is a fundamental quality that every dancer should possess since it is necessary to embody a character precisely and fully.
“If you cannot empathize with the people around you, it will be hard to proceed with a character in practice,” says Sreenarayanan. “You become very empathetic as a mother, not just to your child, but to anybody in the world. It helped me to effectively portray characters through dance.”
According to Sreenarayanan, whether to have a baby or not is completely a woman’s choice. Her advice for women who paused their dance journey because of motherhood is to avoid procrastinating if they truly wish to resume dancing.
“Many aspects can stop you. But if there is a tiny bit of you that wants to resume dancing, go for it,” advises Sreenarayanan. “Dancing is not only about moving your body but also about being in that mode — thinking about it, talking about it, listening about it; these are the ways to prepare yourself to resume dancing.”