Friday, September 9, 2011

Mom in the Spotlight: Kati Hanlon Mayo

Top:  A pregnant! Kati Hanlon Mayo and Sasha Janes in
Stars and Stripes.  
Photo:Christoper Record
Bottom: Kati, Lola and Declan. September, 2011
Kati Hanlon Mayo began her dance training at The Boston School of Ballet and went on to study as a scholarship student at The Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and The School of American Ballet. At the age of 15, she became a member of Boston Ballet 2 and performed regularly with The Boston Ballet. Mayo went on to perform with Jose Mateo's Ballet Theatre before joining NC Dance Theatre as a principal dancer in 1991.

During her career Mayo had many roles created on her including the female lead in Mateo's Schubert Adagio and The Chosen One in Salvatore Aiello's The Rite of Spring. She performed principal roles in works choreographed by George Balanchine, Alvin Ailey, Jean- Pierre Bonnefoux, William Forsythe, Agnes DeMille, Dwight Rhoden, Jacqueline Buglisi and Alonzo King. In 2000 and 2004 Kati was named "Best Performing Artist" by Charlotte Magazine and The New York Times reviewed that "Miss Hanlon ruled the stage with benign classical authority."

Kati and her husband Sean started their family in 2004 with the birth of their daughter, Lola Anne Mayo.  Kati retired from performing in 2006 to spend more time with her family and focus on her passion for teaching. She gave birth to a baby boy, Declan Michael Mayo in 2010. Kati is currently one of the principal ballet instructors for The North Carolina Dance Theatre School and Company and has been a guest teacher for many studios around the country.

How many children do you have?  Boys?  Girls?
I have a six (almost seven) year-old daughter named Lola, and an eighteen-month-old little boy, Declan.

You were still dancing when you were pregnant with Lola weren't you?  How did you manage taking class and performing?
I was very fortunate and had relatively easy pregnancies. I danced up until the very end of my pregnancy with Lola and performed in my first and second trimesters. When I was pregnant with Declan I was no longer dancing with the company but I was teaching and working out. Everyone is different but for me I felt at my best when I was active and keeping as normal of a schedule as I had been used to pre-pregnancy.  I loved being pregnant.  The only downside was that I stretched out a lot of my favorite leotards! 

What was it like coming back to performing after giving birth? 
After giving birth to Lola I felt as though I became a better performer. I definitely took myself less seriously and truly enjoyed my time onstage. I think that having a child shifts your perspective so much and for me it was a positive thing. I spent many years as a performer being a perfectionist, and fortunately I was able to let a little of that go when I became a Mom.

Were you breastfeeding?  What was that like? 
Yes, I was and it was a CHALLENGE! I am glad I did it, but it took a lot of commitment. I remember spending most of my breaks at work either pumping or running to Lola's daycare (luckily nearby) to feed her. It was much easier my second time around when I was not working full time. My hat goes off to all working moms! It is not easy, especially in such a physical profession.

How big of a role did motherhood play in your decision to retire from the stage?
When the time came I was ready to retire from dancing, and I really wanted to be a full-time Mom. It was actually perfect timing. I was able to leave on my own terms and move forward into the next chapter of my life.  In my last performance I was able to dance one of the leads in  Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Alvin Ailey's The River. I thoroughly enjoyed both pieces, and they will always hold a special place in my heart. When you have spent your entire adult life as a dancer there comes a time when you want more--for me my little family was exactly what I wanted.

I know you are teaching now.  Are you doing anything else dancewise?   
I am teaching for the school and the company of NCDT.  In the next month I am also taking part in a training program with The Mark Morris Dance Group to learn how to teach dance to people with Parkinson's Disease. I am extremely excited about this and hope it can be part of my future as an instructor. I have always loved to teach and have been interested in dance as a means of therapy as well as self-expression.

Mothers often feel as though they are torn between motherhood and the part of them that misses doing, being or having something else.  Can you speak about this a little?
I know that is a really common and I have friends who really struggle with their exit from the dance world. I think I am fortunate because I have always loved to teach and for me that is my outlet. There are often days when I am tired and wonder how I will muster the energy to lead a class of students for two and a half hours, but somehow teaching always leaves me energized and excited. It sounds very corny but it is true. I do not have a gift for choreographing, but I definitely have an affinity for teaching.

Has being a mother changed how you teach?
It has made me more aware of not just training dancers, but also instilling my students with confidence, discipline and joy.  I know that only a very small amount of my students will actually go onto dance professionally. It is a very difficult profession. As a mom and teacher I am not only focused on the child who may go on to dance in New York City Ballet, but also the child who can take the skills learned from dance class and apply them to their personal and professional lives.  Dance should spill over into other aspects of a child’s life, and I hope to help my students realize that.

Declan isn't old enough for classes, but is Lola dancing?  If she were to continue to study, based on your own knowledge and experience, what would you hope to see emphasized in her training?
Well, Declan can’t sit still when he hears music playing so I may have no choice but to enroll him in dance soon! As for Lola, she takes ballet now and it is fun for her. I just take it year by year and if she wants to continue that is fine but if not that is okay too.  I just want her to be happy and I never want her to feel like she has to do something because I did it. If you are going to be a professional dancer you have to want it with all of your heart--that is not terribly common.

If she were to continue I would want her dance training to be as well rounded as possible. You can no longer be just a ballet dancer. You have to be well versed in other styles of dance as well. There are very few companies out there now that only perform classical ballet. Modern and Jazz styles improve your technique and make you a more interesting performer.

You definitely have achieved a level of status as a dancer.  Does Lola have any idea how big a deal you are?
You are too kind! To Lola I am just "Mommy." Occasionally she will ask me about my life as a ballerina but she is more interested in her American Girl Dolls or Scooby Doo! Maybe if I had made a guest appearance on "Yo Gabba Gabba" she would really think I was a big deal!

 How would you feel about her embarking on a professional career?  
As I said before, dance is a profession that you do not choose--it chooses you. The love is either there or it's not. Right now, Lola is too young to tell, but I have a feeling she will find her own way and it will be completely unique. That is just fine with me!

Biggest piece of advice for dancer moms?
Find a something from your past life and pursue it. Even if that just means taking class once a month, seeing live performances or teaching.  Once a dancer always a dancer--keep a little bit of your former life if you can. It will help balance you as a mom.


  1. And remember your MOMMA, who drove you all over...

    PS. Kate does

  2. Wow Keesha - love your profile pic. I could barely walk when I was pregnant can't imagine dancing - good for you!


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