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Ballet Training Can Greatly Enhance the Child Birth Experience

Published September 9, 2022

Ballet Training Can Greatly Enhance the Child Birth Experience

by Rosine Bena

When most people think of ballet dancers, they envision toned, trained bodies capable of amazing technical and skilled control; artistic prowess, and great athletic feats. For this reason, many people from different walks of life decide to make the study of ballet part of their lifestyle. In fact, many athletes study ballet to improve their sport of choice. I have taught ballet to baseball players, football players, golfers, mountain climbers, basketball players, martial artists... the list goes on. I am told repeatedly that the study of ballet improves athletic ability and enhances the sport experience. But has anyone realized that it also enhances the childbirth experience? SNB’s Associate Artistic Director, Ananda Bena-Weber, has.

Ananda gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on August 16, 2022, and her birthing experience awed so many nurses (as well as her midwife) that they requested she consider doing a special ballet-based class for expectant mothers.

Bena-Weber taught ballet classes up until two weeks before she gave birth, and she continued to personally practice the ballet barre exercises throughout her pregnancy, even through part of her labor in the hospital. After her water bag broke in the hospital, with contractions every four minutes and hooked up to an IV, Ananda, much to the amazement of the hospital staff, listened to classical music on her iPhone, and did a complete ballet barre holding on to her hospital bed.

“Our work with deep relaxation in ballet technique enables us to use economy of movement and dexterity,” Bena-Weber explained. “We are able to distinguish different muscles and choose which ones to activate and which ones to relax. We start with a tiny area and activate one small muscle group at a time using the minimal amount of strength necessary to perform an action. This promotes a deep awareness of our muscular functioning and relaxation. Relaxation helps relieve tension during the birth process. Fear can cause tension, which can result in a painful and prolonged labor and difficulty in coordinating birth.”

“Ballet training is so helpful for childbirth in developing focus, strength, endurance, mental toughness, grit, flexibility, breathing, and body awareness,” said SNB company dancer Kimberly Yukes, who is a mother of two. “With body awareness, one is able to be very in tune with what is happening internally. Also, it helps with relaxing the body and opening up.”

“Ballet helped me maintain an awareness of my body during child birth,” said SNB demi-soloist Heidi Alford Skursky, a mother of a toddler and a three-year-old. “During the birth of both my children, although very different, I was able to feel the muscles needed to push naturally and with confidence. Ballet kept me strong, flexible, and it assisted with healthy blood flow. My first child's birth was long and strenuous, but I believe the cardio of ballet allowed me to labor without getting too exhausted.”

SNB soloist, Sara Weir, who gave birth to her fifth child in June 2022, feels ballet has helped her with the birth of each of her children.

“Ballet helped me feel strong, capable, and beautiful as my body changed during pregnancy, and I was more in shape so it made it easier to move through each stage of labor and deliver our babies,” Weir explains. “Ballet is definitely also helping me in the recovery.”

There are many “get fit quick” methods out there that emphasize flexing as many muscles as you can at the same time while performing a simple movement in order to get buff at a fast pace. That type of exercise is not helpful when it comes to delivering a child.

“In other forms of exercise, one often feels removed from the inner ‘minimus’ muscles and only aware of the outer ‘maximus’ muscles,” Bena-Weber explains. “While this may give one six-pack abdominal muscles, it takes away from the intimate awareness of one’s body needed for childbirth especially while under anesthesia.”

Ananda was able to deliver her baby successfully on her own in less than an hour of pushing and with minimal tearing.

“The body alignment of the spine and pelvis that I learned from ballet and the understanding of the minute minimus muscles located way inside the body enabled me to push successfully even with the use of an epidural.”

Sara Weir feels ballet has greatly contributed to her pregnancy and birth experience.

“Being able to focus on moving my body beautifully has helped me remain present through the fourth trimester fog,” Weir said. “I’m so grateful for ballet, always, but especially during this season of my life.”

At the suggestion of some of the members of the UCSF child birth medical staff, Ananda Bena-Weber plans on developing a special class for expectant mothers.

“I plan to construct a modified ballet class with relaxation techniques for women to practice before and during pregnancy,” Bena-Weber said. “The childbirth experience is magical, and it is my belief that ballet training can very much enhance it.”

Skursky is in total agreement: “My best advice for a healthy pregnancy, birth, and recovery is: keep dancing.”

For information on Sierra Nevada Ballet performances and to learn more about classes offered at the SNB Academy visit www.sierranevadaballet.org or call: 775-360-8663


Rosine Bena is the founding artistic director of Sierra Nevada Ballet.

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