Benedicta Valentina Mamuini, a balletLORENT company dancer since 2017, recently sat down with Artistic Director & CEO Liv Lorent MBE to discuss her experiences of dancing while pregnant.
Liv: Benny, I’m thrilled to have you dancing in my work through your pregnancy so far, and looking forward to seeing you on the QEH stage at the South Bank later this month. How are you feeling about performing the piece you’ve already done, now as a dancer experiencing pregnancy?
Benny: I’m having lots of complicated mixed emotions. I’m celebrating this new chapter in my life, but also mourning my old self – the one who found it easy to get up and off the floor with ease! I’m also mourning Rapunzel, our short-lived moment of connection and the world I experienced through her. To say goodbye before I was ready felt abrupt.
Performing at Southbank Centre as a pregnant mother is something I’m still wrapping my head around. Weirdly enough, throughout this pregnancy I’ve been a dance artist first and pregnant second. But with this new chapter of Rapunzel and the new role I have in it, which has been adapted for my pregnancy, I’ll be a pregnant dancer on stage for the first time. The role ties into the fertility themes within Rapunzel, but it feels weird to be dancing with a baby in my belly instead of my arms.
Although my body has changed drastically, I’m more connected to it than I’ve ever been. I’ve had to really listen and respond to how I’m feeling each day, and be kind to myself on the days that it just can’t do certain movements or when I wake up exhausted! Don’t get me wrong, I’m thoroughly enjoying this new journey. The anticipation, questions, stresses and the unknown have awoken a different part of my brain and being. If anything, it’s enabled me to further understand the underlying, protective, fierce love that the Witch had for Rapunzel. Even though I haven’t met my little one yet, I’ve already fallen head over heels with them.
Liv: For me, adapting choreography and changing roles to accommodate pregnancy is an extension of the collaborative way that we work together. We’re always inventing solutions to changing creative possibilities, and you’re proving yourself again as an artist in your approach to new challenges. Has it been a confidence building experience to achieve what you have so far?
Benny: I didn’t really give any thought to what being pregnant would mean for my everyday role within the company, career or life. That’s my default mode - I just get on and adapt without too much thought, it’s an important part of my psychology.
By not giving into certain pregnancy symptoms and emotions, I’ve been able to enjoy being pregnant without feeling like I’m compromising myself. I’ve been able to grow and thrive within my new limitations, have time to figure out who I am, trust my body, trust my instincts and more importantly not feel like being pregnant is a setback. I don’t believe this level of control is always awarded to pregnant women.
I’ve been cared for in ways that are uplifting, relaxed and not condescending. Don’t get me wrong, I have gotten the occasion cautious eye when I’ve wanted to attempt climbing the Rapunzel set or scale up the trees! But it’s been beautiful to be loved, supported and celebrated with every milestone with balletLORENT, from starting as an apprentice to my first lead role and now as a pregnant dancer about to enter the world of motherhood.
Liv: I like to think that we’re able to nurture you well through the experiences of pregnancy that several dancers in balletLORENT have gone through. This community has been increased further through the guest artist parents and babies joining us on the Rapunzel tour. I feel that together we’re promoting very positive and inclusive imagery of dancers at various stages of development in their fecundity. This is somewhat pioneering for the industry and I feel it increases how relatable we are to audiences. Do you feel part of a growing community of visibility for parents continuing to work as dancers?
Benny: I feel very lucky to be pregnant at this stage of my career and have so many people around me who know what I’m experiencing. It’s a breath of fresh air to openly discuss breastfeeding, pumping, careers and changing bodies with female artists and receive unfiltered, raw, truthful advice I can relate to.
Rapunzel has featured four mothers and watching them come in for rehearsals, take charge of the space and own their bodies while catering to their babies’ needs was very powerful. To be reassured by you and Debbi that they could be themselves as both mothers and artists was wonderful. They were visibly relaxed in an inclusive space and it didn’t matter if they needed to breastfeed or pass their baby to one of the dancers or just enjoy being around other artists talking about non-baby things.
Seeing them thrive and maintin their identity is very inspiring for me, as it’s something I was quite anxious about. I hope that other companies can learn from the brilliant inclusive work you’ve done at balletLORENT and make space for all dance artists at different stages of their lives.
Liv: Have you experienced audiences relating to you differently now that you’re performing while pregnant?
Benny: People have been surprised at how much I’ve been able to move. They’ve asked: ‘’Is that safe for the baby?’’ ‘’Are you allowed to be dancing?’’ ‘’Why haven’t you stopped?’’ But why shouldn’t I keep enjoying the thing I love, when it’s recommended by doctors and safe to do? I can totally understand the worries, but I’ve also realised they’re actually questioning my ability as a mother already. If people knew the power of movement and dance, and how in tune dancers are with their bodies, they would realise how lucky I am to have the ability to adapt to these changes whilst still doing the thing I love!
Liv: What has surprised you most about your experiences so far of being a dancer performing through pregnancy in balletLORENT?
Benny: I didn’t have any expectations of what my body could and couldn’t do, but each stage in pregnancy brought new issues. I had an easier start the first month as I wasn’t aware I was pregnant and thought the fatigue, muscle tiredness, emotions and brain fog were down to an intense period of rehearsals towards the premiere of Rapunzel. Since the moment I found out, I’ve had ups and downs. I found out I had several fibroids which brought on painful flare ups and left me unable to move. When that happened I couldn’t see myself wanting to dance or move ever again - and yet as soon as the feeling passed, I’d be itching to get back! It was exhausting, but it only reaffirmed the deep need I have for dance and to connect with my body.
The body is very adaptable and if you’re truly in tune with it, it will let you know what it needs. There have been days when something as simple as a plie has felt unfamiliar, and other days when I’m leaping through a jump phrase feeling like my old self again. But it’s important for me to never settle into the easy way and to push myself, so I’m definitely not using my pregnancy as a get out of jail free card!
Liv: For me there’s something very beautiful in Natalie (MacGillivray, another balletLORENT company dancer)handing over the role of JUB to you in The Lost Happy Endings while she was having a baby. Now Natalie returns and is relieving you of the titular role while you take your turn to be pregnant. How do you feel about this artistic and lived experience bond that you share?
Benny: Natalie has always inspired me. During Rumpelstiltskin back in 2017 I bombarded her with questions around diet and training and was in awe at her ability to know where her feet needed to be without looking. I’ve learned a lot from watching her.
Having Natalie pass the baton to me for my first lead role within the company was a beautiful moment within my career. She’s a powerhouse, a fantastic mover and mother. Watching her journey, from when I joined the company until my lead in The Lost Happy Endings and now as a mother to be, has been amazing.
We have a forever bond now. Natalie left parts of her soul, life experiences, heartbreak and joyful memories within the two roles we shared. It doesn’t get more special than that!