Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mom in the Spotlight: Gina Jacobs Thomas

Gina Jacobs Thomas holds the titles of wife, mom, dancer, blogger, paper-airplane maker, princess/fairy costumer, pillow fort architect, and house D.J.  She lives in Denver, CO with her husband and two children.  As a modern dancer with the Hannah Kahn Dance Company, she performs throughout the year in venues large and small, as well as educational outreach programs in area public schools.  Gina moved to Denver from New York City in 2006 where she spent six years making dances with MOB Productions, directed by Mollie O’Brien. She has performed the works of Tere O’Connor, CompanyAmyCox, Jennifer Allen, Drastic Action/Aviva Geismar, and Laura Staton, among others.  She's also served on the dance faculty at Red Rocks Community College.  Her choreography has been presented in New York City through Joyce Soho and DanceNow Downtown, and in Colorado through University of Colorado's NeXus series.  In her spare time, she writes on her blog at

How many children do you have?  Boys?  Girls?
I luckily have one of each.

How old are your children? 
My son is five and my daughter is two (or as she would like me to tell you, she's two and a half).

I love asking this question of all interviewees.  How much sleep do you generally get?  Are you good about setting your own reasonable bedtime, or do you carve out downtime, social time, creative time from sleep?
I am completely cranky and useless if I don't get around 7 hours of sleep a night (post-kids, that is.  Before kids I could survive on much less).  I had to work very hard to get my daughter sleeping all the way through the night, as as payoff, both kids have been sleeping in until 7 or 7:30 lately.  Seeing how my husband and I have the same bedtime as the elderly, I'm getting a pretty solid 8+ hours a night.  Sleep is something I'm not willing to compromise on, for my kids or myself.  The kids are in bed by 8:30, so after that is my downtime.  We usually spend it catching up on our recorded TV shows or reading.   Social time is something we could really use more of, and we get the occasional date night about once a month.  In general, we spend a ton of our waking ours with our kids or doing kid things.

I ask this with awe and reverence.  Seriously. How on God's green for now earth do you manage to blog, dance, parent, (teach?) and have any time for yourself and/or your husband?  
I think my ability to manage my time, commitments and hobbies fluctuates from week to week!  Some weeks I feel like I spend more time (or too much time?) blogging and catching up with social media, then I feel guilty about it and spend the next week focused on being a more attentive wife and parent.  Lately I've been thinking I should be waking early and taking advantage of the kids' new-found fondness for sleeping in.  But when that alarm goes off, all I can think about are those 18+ months that I woke more than once a night to feed my daughter, and I fall back asleep.  

I've been able to continue dancing by having a very supportive husband...and a fabulous lineup of babysitters.  At this point in my dance career, I won't participate in projects that have me rehearsing in odd hours of the day and night with no consistent schedule.   The schedule that I have now is set in stone for the most part.  Thankfully, my time dancing is spent while the kids are in school.  Performance weeks can be tough, with the extra time involved in tech and dress rehearsals.  Some weeks I'm lucky and my husband is in town, but those weeks that he's traveling, I call on our trusty babysitter.  Shows and tech week are planned well in advance, giving me plenty of time to get things figured out.  

Where were you in your career when your children were born?  
I was dancing in NYC when I became pregnant with my son.  I found out I was pregnant two days before we found out that my husband got a promotion and as a result, we would be moving to Denver.  I was at a point with my dancing career where I had tired of the scheduling nightmare of trying to work a full-time job and dance with several small companies.  I had become bitter with all of the rejection I had received from years of auditions and was ready to get out of the concrete jungle.  So, the timing was kind of perfect.  When we moved to Denver, my focus was on getting our house in order and ready for a baby.  It took me a while to get back in the artistic mindset.  As a fluke, three months after I had my son, a community college called looking for a part-time dance instructor, and it just seemed like a great transition.  

How did you plan to fit motherhood into your artistic life?  How much did your plans evolve into reality?
I hadn't really thought too much about what dance life would be like after having a baby.  Moving to a new city while pregnant, I wasn't scouting out dance classes or companies.  Nor did I think there was much happening in this new environment.  But I happened to hear of some Saturday intermediate modern dance classes taking place at Hannah Kahn's studio five minutes from my house, and started taking classes again about five months post-partum.  It was a very slow entry back in to the dance community.  But soon I was asked to join Hannah's company.  The time requirement was completely manageable, and it was great that it was so close to home.  

A few years after I joined the company, I became pregnant with my second child.  Hannah was extremely accomodating, thankfully.  I took class all the way until my 39th week, was in rehearsals for most of my pregnancy (including dancing as a community member in David Dorfman's Underground at 7+ months), and was even allowed to bring my daughter to class after I came back.  My daughter, on the other hand, was not as accomodating, but that's another story.  When I just had one child, it was easier to commit to more than one project.  But with two kids and an oft traveling husband, it's difficult to be involved in projects where the directors don't have children of their own and can't understand the logistics of being a parent.  It's just not possible to drop everything in a day and show up to a last-minute rehearsal.  I'm not dancing as much as I'd like, but I'm satisfied.  I've been able to rent studio space near my house during the weekends to work on solo work I've presented in town.  At this point in my life, my mind is in another place -- I don't feel that creative spark or urgency to make work that I used to thrive on.  But I'm also okay with that.  The high I would get from resolving a choreographic problem in my work has been replaced by the pride I feel at making a puppet theatre from scratch.  

You have continued to dance professionally.  Can you talk about how you got back into dancing shape post babies?  All mothers have a new relationship with their bodies after pregnancy and giving birth - what's that new relationship like as a dancer?  
I think dancers tend to be more critical of their bodies then most women, and it only gets worse after having a baby.  In general, I felt like it had taken me 9-10 months to gain the weight, so it would probably take me that long to lose it.  I wasn't in any major hurry to drop a ton of baby weight, especially since I nursed my babies past the age of one.  However, the pressure of getting back in to dancewear is pretty daunting.  

With my son, I was put on 8 weeks of rest before labor, and then had a c-section, so I knew my body would need time to recover first before I could concentrate on returning to my dancing body.  My focus had temporarily shifted to teaching.  Things were harder, for sure.  The running I used to do before pregnancy to keep my stamina up was just too hard to work in and recover from.  Breastfeeding and lots of walking helped.  With my daughter, I had danced and worked out throughout my pregnancy, and so I felt better and stronger going in to the post-partum phase.  While I had the usual aesthetic stuff to worry about, what was more difficult to adjust to was how my body felt.  My pelvis was more unstable (and a few years older)  and I was more prone to injuries as a result of being more physically exhausted.  My daughter is over two years old, and I'm still not where I want to be.  Let's not even get started talking about my boobs!  I've found a fabulous physical therapist who has helped me get my pelvis stabilized.  And I try to work in some cardio and strength training during my daughter's nap times.

While some might disagree, a dancer's life is often nasty, brutish and short.  It is an art form, performance-wise at least, for the young. What has it been like for you, physically and emotionally, to have twenty somethings as your peers?
In most of the companies I danced in while in New York City, I was usually one of the younger dancers.  At 30.  It was a bit of shock working with Hannah's company and realizing I was the oldest person in the company.  The younger dancers definitely have youth working for them in terms of their facility.  My leg extensions aren't gonna get any higher than where they are now, my back isn't going to miraculously free up and move in extreme directions.  However, what I do have in my corner is experience and maturity. In some ways, I feel like I'm dancing stronger now then I ever have, and I have Hannah's physically and technically challenging work to thank for that.  

When I was 24, I wasn't concerned with artistry, but was more focused on getting the phrases right, or trying to throw in every ounce of energy I had.  I didn't know how to really embody someone else's movement and make it my own.  Or that it was okay to play with someone else's choreography.  I don't get nervous or anxious before a performance like some of the younger dancers might.  It's something I both empathize with and have to remove myself from.  And there is a certain healthy level of challenge that rehearsing with younger dancers can provide.  I think dancers as a whole are a youthful group of people though.  I certainly don't feel like I'm almost 40.  And Hannah's company, while young as an average, has shifted to include more marrieds-with-children than not.  We can all commiserate on lack of sleep and not having showered for days.

Has being a mother changed your creative approach or point of view?  Has it changed your teaching style?  If so how?
Before I had kids, I was so eager to please those I was working with, to the point of not listening to my own needs and wants.  There I would be in class hoping to get noticed, or in other's work trying to feel like I was making an impact.  Then my first child was born and I suddenly felt like life had more purpose.  Now it feels as if I've taken some of the pressure off of myself.  I guess I just don't take myself as seriously anymore.  That's not to say that I don't treasure my career or have gotten lazy.  On the contrary, I feel as if I appreciate that time for myself.  Which is why I don't spend energy worrying about what teachers and choreographers think about me.  I'm there for ME now.  Creating work has become more investigative and process-oriented instead of product driven.  And that has seeped its way in to my teaching philosophy as well.  I'm not as interested in how dancers look doing something (healthy technique aside, of course), but I get more excited when I see that they've experienced a concept I'm discussing. 

Do you dance with your children?  Do they take dance classes? 
We have daily dance parties around here.  My son has developed a wonderful love of music, to the point that he's humming almost constantly.  We can't be in the car without some tune-age.  My daughter started taking some dances classes at a local studio once a week - a tap and ballet combo.  I was hesitant to start her, to be honest.  I'm not hoping she'll follow in my footsteps.  But we were looking for something to do on Saturdays when my son was taking tennis lessons, and since it wasn't a Parent/tot class, it was a good way to "cut the cord."  She loves it, and her teachers are wonderful.  I love showing my kids the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers videos on youtube, and my son has created his own Robot dance.  My daughter loves to twirl and spin around with her eyes closed, the hopeless romantic.  

Have your children seen you dance?  What do they think?
Both of them have seen free, child-friendly performances that I've been a part of.  Usually those shows are short and geared towards a younger audience.  My son came to Hannah's latest show this season in an actual theater and had a great time. Hannah's choreography is pretty traditional and accessible, which helps, as I don't think he would have been too keen to see some of the more post-modern, theatrically slanted work I'd done in NYC.  I made sure to put the comps in my son's name and let him feel special. I have to say, I was more nervous that he was out there watching me then I'd been in a long time.  After the show, he was waiting in the lobby, and I have never felt like there was a more important audience member to impress.  He's at an age now where he can watch dance and pick up things, and it was great to hear his take on the show.  Plus, he got to stay up way past his bedtime, how cool is that?

If asked, what advice would you give your fellow company members about dance and motherhood?
One of my fellow dancers just had her first baby today!  And all I could tell her before she delivered was to enjoy those first few weeks, to not be in a rush to get back, because those first couple of weeks are so sweet and hard and precious.  You never get those back.  Dance will always be here, your baby's first of everything won't.   Know that it may be harder than you expect, but it might also be easier.  Try not to fight your body, it's been doing some very difficult and rewarding work.   Hope that your baby will be agreeable to being shuffled off to class and rehearsal, but don't beat yourself up about it if they have other plans.   It's okay to hire a babysitter so that you can feed your creative self.  Your expectations might have to change, but being a dancer and a mother is a wonderful merger of occupations.  

1 comment:

  1. I appreciated the advice for getting your body back after a baby. I am pregnant and had to stop doing ballet, and have been wondering if I will ever be in good physical shape again.


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