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Ballerinas with only 'cats and memories'


dirac

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This article appears in today’s edition of The Globe and Mail. Jennifer Fournier and Stephanie Hutchison talk about combining motherhood and dance. I’m always pleased to read about dancing moms who are still able to continue their careers – it’s a nice change from the old days, when it was much harder -- but I confess to being struck by Fournier’s comments about great ballerinas without children having only “cats and memories.” I'm sure Fournier didn't mean anything by it – hey, at least she didn’t say “barren women” -- but is it just me or is that remark a trifle insensitive? “I may not be the world’s most interesting dancer, but at least I have a husband,” Fournier did not add......

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/sto...y/lifeMain/home

Despite the setbacks, both women are delighted with the balance they have found in their lives as dancers and mothers.

"There are a lot of ballerinas out there who never had children. There are a lot of great ones, and I don't know if they would have been able to do what they did if they had had children," Ms. Fournier says.

Still, she adds, all they have are "cats and memories."

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Fournier’s comments about great ballerinas without children having only “cats and memories.” I'm sure Fournier didn't mean anything by it – hey, at least she didn’t say “barren women” -- but is it just me or is that remark a trifle insensitive?

Of course it's not you. That was a tacky thing to say, but sort of wet-blanket and cowlike, rather than sharp--not amusing like Marlene Dietrich when she really gets vicious in her last years talking about Joan Crawford.

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I was perhaps more disturbed by the following quote

In fact, the experience of motherhood has deepened her art, she maintains. "Your understanding of love is deeper and richer. You're much more compassionate. That refracts through everything that I do. I feel that anybody who dismisses having children in simplistic terms is missing the complexity of it. The act of having children, in a weird way, makes us capable of doing more."

Granted those of us who don't have children can't exactly argue with that--after all, since I don't have them, how can I know? I know I know, when I have kids I'll know just what she means. :)

What I do know is that I have intensely strong relationships with, and an immense amount of love for my parents, my husband, and yes, my cats (ok, I can't really say we have a strong relationship, I feed them, they love me. But I love them enough to have spent about 4k on my boy this summer, and I'm a grad student--read that as cashpoor).

Maybe I should suggest she care for a beloved father through a long, physically debilitating disease--taking care of all of his bodily needs and watching him slowly die. Then she can talk to me about compassion and a "deeper and richer" understanding of love.

Maybe she DID need to become a mother to understand love, and have compassion for her fellow humans, but many of us don't.

I'm sure she was just being defensive about people criticizing her choice, but when being interviewed for print, she might take care to sound a bit more, well, compassionate, towards other human beings.

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I agree with aurora about the tone of defensiveness in the quotations.

My biggest problem is the suggestion that the following is a universal experience:

The act of having children, in a weird way, makes us capable of doing more.
Generalizing (and judging) from one's own particular experience is one of those things we have too much of in the world nowadays. Why not a simple "made me capable of doing more"?
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I'ms ure defensiveness does play a role here. It's easier to have children and still carry on with your career than it was, but that doesn't mean that difficulties and hostility, overt or otherwise, don't exist.

Of course it's not you. That was a tacky thing to say

Thank you. The adjective ‘tacky’ sprung to my mind, too, but I was trying to be nice. :)

Depends on if we're talking about situations or attitudes, I suppose.

A good point. I think in the latter category we may actually be regressing in this department.

Maybe she DID need to become a mother to understand love, and have compassion for her fellow humans, but many of us don't.

It seems to be difficult, sometimes, for the moms to express these perfectly sincere and admirable sentiments while avoiding the kinds of implications that you mention, aurora. One sees what they mean -- but. It’s not necessarily intentional, though. (As bart notes, a simple rephrasing can take away the implied sting. Kyra Nichols talked about the effect having children made upon her in Ballet Review not too long ago and she struck exactly the right notes, I thought.)

Of course, there are occasions when the 'sting' is intentional, I fear.

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Well, some great ballerinas are left alone with their cats, their memories and companies to run. Wasn't her own AD the prima of her company for a generation?

I don't know Fournier, but her remarks seem to betray not only a lack compassion but also a lack of awareness.

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Well, some great ballerinas are left alone with their cats, their memories and companies to run. Wasn't her own AD the prima of her company for a generation?

I don't know Fournier, but her remarks seem to betray not only a lack compassion but also a lack of awareness.

She’s also danced with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Guess Kain and Farrell are bad role models.

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I don't know Fournier, but her remarks seem to betray not only a lack compassion but also a lack of awareness.

I don't know her either, but I've seen her dance with Farrell's troupe and I've watched Farrell rehearse her in Tzigane. She has a nice face, and while the comment might sting some ex-dancers, I read it as unthinking, not unkind.

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Guess Kain and Farrell are bad role models.

Karen Kain was pregnant about 18-19 years ago (she is married to actor Ross Petty) and happily anticipating the birth of their baby. Unfortunately, she suffered a miscarriage. She never announced any other pregnancies, leaving her fans to wonder whether she could have had a child later.

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Marga, I wasn’t really thinking of that kind of individual circumstance, sad as it certainly is. (Also, I think the matter of whether the absence of children is voluntary or not isn't quite to the point.)

At this juncture I should probably note that we should avoid speculation about individual circumstances. Not aimed at you, Marga - just a general reminder. :)

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Why do people assume not having children is a choice? If you have the opportunity--physically, personally, circumstancially, and then choose yes or no to have children, then it's a choice, but otherwise?

So semantically (is that a word?)...

1)Is it a situation or an attitude Fournier is commenting on? If the latter, then she is insensitive to circumstance.

2) Bart is right, changing the generalized "us" to personal "me" does ameliorate it somewhat.

3) Ditto Aurora's experience. Apropos: a colleague of mine is a Superintendent of our school district, due to ovarian cancer his wife could not have children--his comment was, "I have 900 children 280 days a year to worry and care for." He said it with a smile. So, for all those AD's who don't have children, I say the same thing: You have 100+ people who respect you and look to you for guidance and care, that is a great responsibility, but it has its rewards.

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I'm a working mother so I suppose it's up to me to rush to Fournier's defense... I don't mean that seriously but if you look at the article, it does look like the sentence about 'cats and memories' was edited so there may have been more context than we know. I know it seems unlikely given the huge volume of discourse about motherhood and parenting drowning the media these days, but there still is prejudice against mothers in the workplace. I doubt that a sleep-deprived new mother was thinking of anything except presenting herself and her beloved child as best she could.

More pertinently, although most mothers (whether working inside and outside the home) do regard themselves as being more efficient, better multi-taskers, packing more into a day, etc. than others, I'm not sure that those qualities are particularly important for a dancer in a big company. Sure they have to cut down on their socializing, but unlike office workers who can talk on the phone and write a document at eth same time, a dancer can't take class and rehearse simultaneously.

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Agreed that the presentation is too general and somewhat abrasive, and could have been softened. But the thoughts may have nuggets of truth in them.

In my personal experience, having a baby does change your concept of love. No other relationship that I have experienced begins with such a powerful, raw, biological, primal, intense surge -- one that, as a biologist, I believe is chemically mediated (most probably by oxytocin, but possibly by swift changes in other hormones related to reproduction). This is not to say that other forms of love are not valid, intense, etc. But this one IS different from day one.

Since their babies are still young, these women may be influenced by the flush of that first surge. I can say that NEVER have I wanted another baby -- in an intense, physical way -- so much as when my children were newborns. Perhaps this type of feeling is leading them to pity women who have never experienced the rush that they have experienced. I think you might find lots of women out there whose feelings about the relative importance of children and careers changed once they had children. Before you have children, or if you don't have children, it really is impossible to imagine what it feels like.

Of course, some people do chose not to have children, and others are not able to. It's easy to conjecture, however, that dancers allow the choice to be taken away from them, and put themselves at risk of being unable to have children. I think this might be the cautionary tale in their story. Women in other professions might find it difficult or unfilfilling to return to their careers full force, but for dancers the biology of being pregnant and delivering a baby fundamentally puts their instruments, and their careers, at risk. Wouldn't you think the pressures to delay or forgo motherhood are different, and larger, than for other women? I'm struck by the fact that both these women are relatively old to be having babies -- in fact, old enough that getting pregnant and carrying a healthy baby to term are statistically dicey propositions.

[Edited by Estelle to remove a sentence added by mistake in the wrong post- sorry !]

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Why not a simple "made me capable of doing more"?

I agree that such a wording would have been far less controversial. For example, I remember an interview of Laurent Hilaire in which he talkes about his children and how fatherhood made him feel stronger as a dancer, more confident, etc. but clearly he was speaking about his own experience only and made no generalizations about other people's lives or feelings...

4mrdncr, your colleague's words remind me of some interviews of Claude Bessy when she was the director of the POB school, from time to time, journalists asked her if she regretted not having children (what a completely idiotic and senseless question, by the way- and also somewhat sexist, as in general people seldom ask such questions to childless men) and she replied she had more than 100 children to care for every year...

Actually, I wonder to what extent the final sentence about "cats and memories" reflects more the journalists' feeling than the dancers'. And as GWTW, I'd be likely to feel indulgent about the dancers's words because they must be going through quite an exhausting period (breastfeeding and working as a dancer, that must really be hard !) and perhaps they haven't thought that their words could be considered as offensive...

At the POB, there have been many cases of dancing mothers in the last few decades, including quite a lot of principal dancers since at least the 1960s (in the last few seasons Delphine Moussin, Laetitia Pujol and Clairemarie Osta were on maternity leave- actually I think that the principals who finished their careers without having children were a minority in the last decades, the only one I remember among those who retired in the last decade is Elisabeth Platel), I guess that the rather comfortable status of POB dancers probably makes things less difficult than in some other countries- yet it must be quite a challenge physically.

(Edited to add the following):

The following sentence of the journalist is quite controversial too:

Dance is like a husband, whom they cannot live without for long. It is central to their identity.
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I'm struck by the fact that both these women are relatively old to be having babies -- in fact, old enough that getting pregnant and carrying a healthy baby to term are statistically dicey propositions.

This is not Fournier's first child. Having a first baby at an "advanced" age is dicier than having a second or third or more.

For me, there was nothing wrong with the article and I liked what was presented in the Globe. From personal experience I know how much editing goes on with such articles, sometimes making the interviewees come out badly because of truncated comments. There is also an excitement in being interviewed where one may say certain things which can have a polarizing effect on some readers, and innocently omit other, equally heartlfelt, statements. It's like being on live TV or radio, where you can scarcely remember what you said, much less backpedal to fix the blurted out ideas elicited by the interviewer's questions (whose job, when well done, is to provoke a little controversy, anyway).

I have kept from entering this discussion because I used to have extremely strong views on this subject and dislike confrontation. Let me just say that before I reentered the world of ballet, I was the publisher of a magazine called "Nurturing" which I founded in 1981. It was about homebirth, breastfeeding, and 24-hour mothering. I was a non-aggressive activist as well, and had over a dozen letters published in the Toronto papers in reaction to issues such as universal day care and mothers who leave their children all day so they can work outside of the home. I was also interviewed on several TV and radio programs and was written about in a few magazines as a proponent for "my side".

I enjoyed Treefrog's thoughtful response, based on her experiences with childbirth and bonding. I related to them with full understanding on a personal level, having given birth 6 times. I was one of those women who was born to be a "natural" mother -- it's what I wanted more than anything, including ballet, and I was very comfortable as a homebirther, decades-long breastfeeder, homeschooler, family bed advocate, and gentle mother. I have also tempered my thoughts over the years as my children have grown and become adults and I have aged and, with illness, have become less passionate about my formerly-held strong stance. We grow and mature, ourselves, as we raise our children and realize there is more than one way to achieve successful parenting, as well as successful lives without parenting (or the desire to parent) at all. We may all end up with only cats and memories anyway. I have two -- cats, that is; memories I have in the millions and they are still being made.....

That's all I want to say at this time. :)

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Thanks Marga, as always, for your beautiful thoughtful comments. I was struck by the amount of weight the dancers gained---47 lbs?; 40 lbs? In my day you dared not gain more than 20 lbs. I know the medical profession has revised that but I would think someone wanting to return to a dancing career would have been more astute.

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Weight gain is a tricky thing: there are women who gain 25 pounds and spend months trying to get rid of 10-15 of them. My little sister, who got every good gene in the family, weighed 110lbs from high school on until she was pregnant with my nephew, and her idea of exercise is walking from the car and back. (I'm not bitter or anything...) She weighed 150 just before giving birth. A week later, she weighed 115lbs, and she dropped the other five in what seemed like seconds. I think it depends on the body, and having had children before would have given Fournier, at least, a benchmark, for how her body would handle weight.

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most mothers (whether working inside and outside the home) do regard themselves as being more efficient, better multi-taskers, packing more into a day, etc. than others,

Some of them sure do. :mad:

4mrdncr, your colleague's words remind me of some interviews of Claude Bessy when she was the director of the POB school, from time to time, journalists asked her if she regretted not having children (what a completely idiotic and senseless question, by the way- and also somewhat sexist, as in general people seldom ask such questions to childless men)

That puts it in a nutshell, I think.

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does anyone take umbrage anymore?

i certainly did after that 'cats and memories' remark. and i have neither!

found it rather obnoxious, or at least silly and self-absorbed. i'm not talking about her experience or that of any other mother now, just about the remark. :(

Note: I am most definitely not attacking motherhood, nor am I maligning its wonder as an experience, its uniqueness, etc. I just thought the remark a bit much. Wanted to get that disclaimer in there. :mad:

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