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Teaching dance during pregnancy and after delivery
by Padma Chebrolu, Cincinnati, OH

June 30, 2004

Classical Indian dances are one of the most mentally and physically demanding dance styles. Many of the dance practitioners (both performers and teachers) in this field tend to be in their late 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond. Reason being it takes many years to learn the dance style, make significant contribution to the dance world and be recognized for it. For women especially, the challenges of having children and getting back to be physically fit to perform again is not an easy task. This is close to being reborn as a dancer. On top of it, if you own a dance studio, keeping it alive during pregnancy and post-pregnancy poses a great challenge.

This is my personal journey through motherhood. I write about how I was able to operate the dance studio smoothly and get back into shape within a year to be able to present performances. As I am not qualified in the medical field, I have always consulted my physician and let her know of my life style and my passion for dance. I had full support of my family, as we are all very athletics oriented and keen on physical fitness.

During June of 2002, my husband and I found out we would be having a baby. I spoke with our physician about the consequences of being somewhat physically active with dance shows and running the studio. She encouraged me to be active as much as possible but with caution. My pregnancy was very healthy all along. My diet was good as I am a strict vegetarian and would eat only very low in fat foods. My diet included mainly rice, vegetables, fruits and milk. Compared to my first pregnancy, during this one I started gaining weight at a rapid pace.

Padma teaching a dance class 5 weeks before delivery

In the studio, I would stand and explain the movements and show the hasta vinyasa (hand movements) and mudras (hand gestures). Or I would sit down on the chair and show the adavus (dance steps). I always made sure the mid part of my body was not moving much. Some of my senior students started helping me with the lessons by demonstrating some of the adavus or dances. So all I had to do was to speak and move my hands while being seated. The parents and students were extremely helpful and appreciative of the classes being continued.

By the time I was nine months pregnant I had gained 50 pounds. From the seventh month onwards, I could barely walk due to the weight gain. Many people started thinking I was carrying twins. Several ultra sound scans were done to make sure I was doing well. We found out there was only one baby boy going to be delivered. I had excess fluid around the baby, which is not normal, but at the same time was not going to create any complication.

Many parents started asking about classes after the delivery. I also heard from rumors, that some parents started thinking I would not be as committed to the dance studio after the baby was born. My answer to all of this was I am always committed to the dance field, and as soon as the baby and I were feeling fine, our classes would resume. It could be a few weeks or months.

Two weeks before the due date, my feet started swelling. This was an indication to me to start my maternity leave. Notification process to all the parents was set in place about the delivery and the details about when the classes would resume. I was six days overdue and it seemed like forever. Finally, on April 28th 2003, our son Noah Nataraj was born. I had to go through a c-section surgery due to his weight and size.

Padma at a recent performance

Four days later, I was home from the hospital with the baby and started the painful process of recovering from the surgery. All the healthy food and being physically active during the pregnancy paid off. I was able to recover very well within four weeks. I started the classes with some of my senior students where I would basically sit down and instruct the class. Within six weeks after the delivery all the classes resumed. I took things very slowly and was very careful about how much I used my body during the classes. Noah Nataraj was always in the studio with me. All the mothers would take care of him during the classes. He was right at home with all the noise and people.

I was very conscious about not being as flexible and agile as I used to be and wanted to get back in shape. There was nothing else I could modify in my diet, as it was already very minimal and healthy. I kept challenging myself to improve my stamina from one month to another. My goal was to go back to my original size and performance level by the time Noah Nataraj was one year old. This has been achieved with determination and tremendous hard work. During the past one year, our studio has presented three Arangetrams and achieved many other major milestones. I cannot thank enough all the people who helped me make all these things possible. Their faith and encouragement are invaluable. I do feel like I have been born again as a dancer and a teacher.

Padma Chebrolu is the artistic director of Cultural Centre of India. Along with operating a dance studio, she conducts lectures, demonstrations, workshops and performances at many universities, museums, corporations, and performing art schools. Padma extensively writes articles about dance and dance education. Padma's background in education includes MBA and Masters in Education in Information Technology from US. She also has a degree in Bharata Natyam from India. She works as a software engineer at a major corporation. She lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati.
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