Breastfeeding and Ballet, making it work- Sarah Ricard Orza and the Pacific Northwest Ballet

Sarah Orza breastfeeding mother ballerina

Sarah Ricard Orza performing Giselle with the Pacific Northwest Ballet  ©Lindsay Thomas

The first time I saw soloist Sarah Orza dance was as she performed the role of the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, Washington. She was sublime and the 4 preteen/teen girls I was sitting with gasped and whispered about her extension, her feet, her artistry, and her hands. Their excitement was palpable (sorry anyone sitting near us that may have been disturbed by the energy coming from our row) but mine was more subdued. While I admired her skill and artistry and marveled at her technique and her performance was stunning, I was intrigued by her for other reasons.

Like how does she not leak all over those gorgeous costumes?

By act 2 her boobs must be so engorged.

She can dance on her toes, extend a leg past her head balanced on a piece of paper mache, leap effortless over people’s heads, AND make milk for her 10 month old?

Yes, yes she can. Perhaps even more amazing (can it get more amazing?) was the reality that she could do much of that not only because of her biology, talent, skill, and hard work, but because she is in a supportive environment.

The ballet world is known for rigorous schedules, demanding physical requirements, competitive peers, limited opportunities, body type expectations, controlling dietary habits, short careers, and breath-taking performances of athletic artistry. Nobody has ever thought of the ballet profession as being family friendly. Yet at a time when major corporations are struggling with implementing federal regulations supportive of mothers pumping their breastmilk in the work place, an organization in the nonprofit ballet profession is figuring out how to make it work. In an extremely competitive field where motherhood used to be seen as career ending situation, more and more women are finding they can start a family and continue on their professional track.

Sarah Orza Breastfeeding ballerina

Sarah Ricard Orza and William Lin-Yee ©Lindsay Thomas Pacific Northwest Ballet.

At just 4 years of age, little Sarah was enrolled in her first ballet class. She enjoyed it and was encouraged for her natural aptitude. Around 12 and 13 years of age, with the encouragement of her instructors, Sarah experienced a resurgence of interest. Her devotion and hard work paid off with the opportunity for even more devotion and hard work when she was accepted and attended the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York. At just 18 she received an apprenticeship at the New York City Ballet where she danced her way up the ranks for 7 years. Then, in an unusual move that would foreshadow what was to come in her career, Sarah stepped away from dance to listen to her heart. Burned out and unsure of what she wanted to do next, she worked in jewelry design for a year. In ballet, a year is an eternity, leaving the studio for a year often means you don’t go back.

But not for Sarah, engaged to a principal dancer, she wasn’t far from the dance world and in 2008 moved from New York to Seattle for her future husband’s career. The stage began calling and Sarah asked for an audition at PNB as well, in just 3 weeks of getting back into the studio, she had her audition and subsequently, a job offer.

From 2008-2012, Sarah and husband Seth, a principal dancer with PNB, enjoyed marriage and dance together. Then in 2012 they went into parenthood with careful planning. Looking at the season schedule, they tried to time the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery just right and lucky for them, their plan worked. Sarah’s last performance with PNB before she gave birth was in the Nutcracker near the end of her first trimester. At that point, also enrolled in college classes, Sarah worked in the marketing and communications department of the company as an intern until the home birth of her daughter Lola on May 15th, 2013.

Sarah took 8 weeks to just recover and babymoon. She didn’t even think about returning to physical activity in that time, just respected her body’s need for rest and both her’s and Lola’s need for bonding. When I asked her about that time and how she approached that time and the time after she said “My body created this life, I didn’t really lose the weight at first, I wanted to hold onto it. It was important to enjoy this window of time and my body had already done so much for me as an amazing vessel, I wanted to be gentle with it. I was never going to feel the same again, I couldn’t go back to what my body was before having Lola and maybe that’s ok.”

Certainly her body was changed forever and her desire to breastfeed was one very obvious change for her body. Breastfed herself until she was 3 years old, a year before starting her what would be training for her professional career, Sarah was confident that she would breastfeed her own children. Seth was on board and willing to do what he could to support her in reaching her goals and Sarah prepared for returning from maternity leave by communicating with Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, that she would be breastfeeding and it was a priority. While the administrative side of PNB had provisions for breastfeeding mothers in the office, there hadn’t been many ballerinas that required accommodations for pumping. Still, willing to learn and having had some experience with a few ballerinas before, Mr. Boal and the company were ready and willing to support Sarah.

Sarah Orza Breastfeeding ballerina

Sarah Ricard Orza with husband Seth Orza and daughter Lola ©Lindsay Thomas, Pacific Northwest Ballet

When she returned to the company in the fall of 2013 arrangements had been made and flexibility was required of everyone. The community of the company was supportive and not only did Sarah get back in shape, the 2013-2014 season found her cast as a soloist in some impressive and demanding roles including the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty and one of the most demanding roles in classical ballet, Giselle in spite of hiccups along the way. Early on, as she was working on toning and becoming familiar with this new version of her body, Sarah often found herself in a nearby closet during class time pumping her milk and missing out on the grande allegro portion of the class. This impacted her jumps resulting in this strength of hers a temporary weakness. Sometimes the cast would have to wait for her for rehearsals but they would take advantage of the opportunity to work pieces without her. During performances she would pump in the dressing room as needed and the other ballerinas got used to seeing Sarah hooked up to the pump expressing her milk. “I had two full time jobs plus being a mother, pumping and dance, I worked at both of them full time.” With videos and a piece of Lola’s clothing she tucked into her dance bag, Sarah found that she responded well to the pump even with all the demands she put on her body as an athletic artist.

But between the support of her husband Seth, her mother staying with Lola close enough to the theater and studio for Sarah to run home during the day to breastfeed some of the feeds, Peter, and the rest of the PNB family, she was able to make it work, not only being able to exclusively breastfeed (with her pumping when she was away from Lola) but pumping enough to donate. It wasn’t long before Sarah’s jumps were soaring again too.

Sarah made it clear that she knew going into this that she was willing to sacrifice to make it work, her breastfeeding goals were so important to her that she would skip going back to work if necessary. With a mixture of pride and gratitude Sarah explained it didn’t come to that because of the support of Seth as a very hands on dad, support from her mother, her boss Peter as the artistic director of the company, and her coworkers understanding that her lactating didn’t impair her dancing. What kept her going she said: “I’ve kept my eye on the prize, Lola, her health and safety all along.”

Sarah Ricard Orza with daughter Lola ©Lindsay Thomas, Pacific Northwest Ballet

Sarah Ricard Orza with daughter Lola ©Lindsay Thomas, Pacific Northwest Ballet

And it’s Lola that inspires her in continuing to take leaps in her dance. Sarah isn’t done with ballet, at 33 years old she has quite a few good years still ahead of her and she’s working hard pursuing her career goals along with her family goals. “It’s not worth leaving Lola if I don’t push myself. I’m going to keep reaching, I love ballet and I love my daughter, I have to commit myself fully to both to make it worth the sacrifices required. Both Seth and I do.”

Sarah has been a leader within the company regarding maternity policy and breastfeeding. This year three other ballerinas were expecting little ones and there were open conversations about breastfeeding in the studio and dressing rooms. PNB was ready and prepared to have appropriate accommodations in place for these dancers should they need space to pump for their babies as well.

Lola and Sarah are still breastfeeding, Sarah plans to let Lola wean when she’s ready. This next season Sarah isn’t planning on pumping backstage as Lola has taken to solids just fine and is well over a year. But that breastfeeding bond is still special for them right now.

When I got to go back with my eldest to Seattle to see Sarah dance as Giselle this past spring, I was moved to tears by her performance. The grace, strength, and dedication as she played the role of a young maiden driven insane by love lost and then sacrificed herself as one of the mysterious willis dancing all night to keep the man she loved alive, I forgot during the performance that she is also the mother of a sweet little girl. Her dedication and passion for her craft made it so all I saw was the heartbroken Giselle on stage. When I got to hug Sarah following the performance, all I saw was the sweet dedicated mother with a passion for her daughter.

Sarah will be onstage again this year at Pacific Northwest Ballet and I’m certain I’ll be making the drive from Portland to Seattle to be mesmerized by her performance again. To get tickets to a performance, visit pnb.org. You can also find Sarah pictured on PNBs Facebook and Instagram as well as on her own Instagram.

 

Sarah Orza breastfeeding ballerina

Sarah Ricard Orza with daughter Lola ©Lindsay Thomas, Pacific Northwest Ballet

 

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How has your place of employment supported you in your breastfeeding journey? How did your coworkers respond? What do you think would help more women reach their breastfeeding goals while maintaining a presence in the work place?

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A 14 year old girl’s thoughts on breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society.

Reposting this article from last year, at a time when there is public outrage and debate about women posting photos online of themselves breastfeeding and arguments rage about how appropriate inappropriate it is to breastfeeding in public,  it seems timely to share the thoughts of a 14 year old girl on what messages she sees in the world of breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society. 
by Ophélia Martin-Weber
Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

I wonder when people started treating boobs as objects used just for sex.  A long time ago did people respect moms and their breasts feeding hungry babies?  Even though they didn’t see women as equal did they know that breastfeeding was the healthiest, easiest, and natural source of nutrients to feed the baby and nothing to shun?  There was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote but could freely pull out their breast and feed their baby and today it seems like we have flipped those.  In some ways we have come so far in how women are treated and viewed in society but in other ways women, particularly mothers, are dismissed as their real value being only in their appeal to the opposite sex.  I wonder if we’ve lost something.  Then I wonder what that means for me and I’m only a 14 year old girl. When I was younger I didn’t know breasts had amazing powers to produce milk even though my mom breastfed my sisters and me.  All that I knew was that I had little boobies and I couldn’t wait for the day when my nipples would transform into breasts.  I don’t remember when the fact that mature breasts can give milk really stuck in my head but when it did I thought humans were related to cows.  Sure, humans and cows are both mammals but when I was a kid I thought maybe women actually were cows.  Today I know that’s not true and I also understand there is a lot of attention given to the sexiness of the female breast and that makes me uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because now that I have breasts I find myself wanting smaller breasts in part because I’m a ballerina but also because I know that bigger breasts are supposed draw attention from guys, are seen as more sexy, and could decide how I am treated by others.  Part of me feels that if I want to be liked I have to have big breasts.  I want guys to notice me but I don’t want guys to notice me (yes, I know this is a contradiction) and I really don’t want them to think I’m just here to have sex with.  I’m just not ready for that and don’t know if I ever will be.  To me, I’m so much more than my sex appeal.  So I’m careful about what I wear, I don’t want communicate that I want attention based on sex but that frustrates me too.  The clothes I like the best and find most comfortable are more form fitting but if I wear yoga pants that fit my butt well will it be communicating that I want the wrong kind of attention?  Or in a leotard are my breasts speaking louder than my mind or my art?  I hope not.  I want to matter to others for more than just my body.  As a dancer, I work with my body a lot and I work hard to make it strong and healthy but not for attention.  That work is to help me tell stories, to use my body as an artist and an athlete.  Struggling with my body every day is part of my lot as a dancer and I have a love hate relationship with it and I’m ok with that.  What I don’t want is to question my natural biology simply because of how others say it should be.  Sometimes it feels as though society wants to punish those with female body parts yet tell us we’re equal without having to act like we really are.  I don’t get it, I understand that breasts are considered sex things but they don’t seem any more “sexy” than most of the other parts of my body such as my lips, my arms, my shoulders, my legs.  Men may find them sexy (is it that way in every culture or just ours?) but they aren’t sexy to me, they feed babies. Urban ballerina Looking back to what my childish mind was thinking and comparing it to some people’s opinions about moms openly breastfeeding in public, I wonder if they too see breastfeeding moms as cows?  Do breastfeeding mothers need to be fenced and herded together, separate from everyone else?  I know there are people that think about moms that way but not everyone does.  A lot of my adult friends have different opinions about breastfeeding but they don’t think poorly about my mom and they don’t ask her to cover when she’s feeding my little sister.  It doesn’t bother them that part of my mom’s breast is visible.  Pictures of beautiful and sexy women show off breasts at least as much as a mom’s breast is seen when she is breastfeeding.  In our culture, what is the most sexy part about women’s breasts?  The breast that is popping out of a too small shirt or the covered nipple?  Why?  If it’s the nipple, why is it such a big deal about breastfeeding in public if the baby is hiding the nipple?  Maybe it’s understandable because of the messages we get from certain parts of society, they might think it is sexual because a person’s mouth, even if it is a baby is on a woman’s breast but they need to get a grip and review their history lessons.   And also learn how breastfeeding works. Why is it ok for men to show off their mammary glands but women can’t?  Why aren’t women “allowed” to expose their chest as much as men can?  Why is it considered indecent for me to be topless by my neighbor across the street can walk around just in his shorts and nobody has a problem with it?  How is that equal?  How is that not discrimination?  Stop telling me I can be equal to my male counterparts but then tell me I have to hide my body more as if there is something wrong with me. I’m not sure I even want to have babies but if I do I will breastfeed them though I have to admit the idea of breastfeeding in public scares me because I know how people think of breasts, women, and moms.  That kind of attention isn’t what I want for myself.  I don’t know what I will do though because I know too much about breastfeeding to not breastfeed and I don’t think I’d want to just stay home all the time.  How sad is it that anyone would be afraid to feed their baby in public?  I’m a little disappointed in myself for feeling this way, I mean, my mom is The Leaky Boob, I feel like she’s the queen of breastfeeding.  But that’s where I am right now.  Fortunately, I have a long time to figure that out and I know I have a family that will support me along the way. If all this obsession with female breasts didn’t actually happen, what would life be like?  If we could change the attitudes against breastfeeding would we actually change attitudes about women?  I hope we can learn from our mistakes because I think people are being hurt by the accepted cultural attitudes of social norms.  And I’m still young, I have to have hope.

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What do you think?  

Do you feel attitudes about breastfeeding are related in any way to our attitudes about women in general?  

How did you think about breasts, breastfeeding, and your own body when you were a teen?

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Completely unrelated to this post, this video shares the author’s story of dance, her dance aspirations, and her current project.

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teen ballerina Ophélia Martin-Weber is 15 years old, the eldest of six girls.  Ophélia is in 8th grade, homeschooled, and is passionate about dance.  A few years ago Ophélia wrote for The Leaky Boob, sharing her views as an 11 year old on breastfeeding and Jessica recently shared a proud mama moment about Ophélia.  You can see some of Ophélia’s dancing and hear her share her dance story and dreams in this video.
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Will you allow me a proud mama moment?

This post was originally published in 2013, updated for 2014 by Jessica Martin-Weber

Sometimes it seems like these days of breastfeeding, diaper changes, and needy babies are going to last forever.  We fear losing ourselves in the blur of caring for our children.  Counting diapers, checking ounces, charting milestones… every day becomes so full it doesn’t seem like this time will ever really end. I always hate it when “they” say to hold on to this time, it goes so fast and the next thing you know you’ll be sad how fast they grew up.  It never really helps me, just makes me question if I’m ungrateful and selfish to not savor the poop filled, constantly breastfeeding stage when I’m tired and worn out.  And I have had moments where I’ve been convinced that my child would be the first child to actually still be breastfeeding when they go to college. But you know what?  “They” are right.  I have 6 children, 6 beautiful girls ages 2 years to 15 years old.  I blinked, you know, blinked and I have a 15 year old.  I could swear she was just a baby.  And no, she’s not still breastfeeding.

Help Ophélia Martin-Weber go to summer dance intensives

“They” are totally right. It goes so fast.  Faster than saying can even convey.  And it is so bittersweet.  One day you feel stuck in a whirlwind of diapers and boobs and the next you’re helping them plan leaving for the summer.  Or forever. Over 15 years ago I was made a mother when The Piano Man and I had our eldest.  Some days I look at her and remember the breastfeeding challenges I encountered with her and smile to think how far we’ve come and how distant that time feels.  Yet how very close still.  She helped mold and shape me to not only be the mother she needed but also to help form me to be the mother her little sisters would need and even set me on the path that led to starting The Leaky Boob.  I have shared the breastfeeding journey she and I experienced together, why I breastfeed for her even today, shared some of her sexual abuse survivor story, and she’s even written for The Leaky Boob herself sharing her views on breastfeeding just before she turned 12.  I am one proud mama. We named her Ophélia Chantelle, which means little helper, little song but I call her Earth Baby here to give her a little bit of distance between her real life and what I share online.  She’s not completely anonymous.  With her permission I’ve shared her face, her name, and parts of her story.  She follows The Leaky [email protected]@b and Beyond Moi and has seen conversations I’ve had and from time to time she will help make a post using my phone and taking dictation while I’m driving.  Thanks to her questions and sharing her thoughts, I’ve been inspired for articles, status updates, and tweets.  Her critical thinking has pushed me to reconsider my views on some topics and to open myself up to considering other perspectives.  Her giving, kind, and generous heart moves her to care deeply about others and inspires me to do the same.  I am one proud mama. Giving and full of love, she is a model big sister, making room in her life to play with her 5 little sisters in ways that are meaningful for them from building forts to playing peek-a-boo to going on walks to games of Battleship and climbing trees.  Creativity exudes from her, she knits, bakes, draws, writes, and above all, dances.  Her heart is big and she cares deeply not only for her family but friends and even strangers.  Sharing meals with homeless members of our community, volunteering to help others with babysitting, donating her funds when she can, volunteering for local and international efforts, and even making the choice to prioritize fair-trade chocolate so the treats she enjoys don’t oppress another child.  I am one proud mama. She loves learning and is willing to take risks to pursue what she loves.  An introvert, she is growing every day in understanding herself more and putting herself out there.  Nothing brings that quite together like dance does and in just 3 years we’ve watched as she went from the girl turning 11 and begging for ballet lessons more than anything, even saying to us “I don’t care if I ever get an iPod, a cell phone, or a car, I just want to dance!” to today blooming into a young ballerina with opportunities to pursue her dreams.  Bloodied feet and being behind most dancers her age have never deterred her, just spurred her to work harder until she caught up.  This past January she pushed herself to a new level and attended auditions for summer ballet intensives with hundreds of other students, most of whom have been dancing at least twice if not three times as long as she has.  It was scary but she did it.  I am one proud mama. It was worth it too.  She got into most of the programs for which she auditioned.  Consulting with her instructors and with The Piano Man and I, she narrowed down her choices to 2 programs.  Before she was even sure of where she wanted to go she began baking, running an ongoing bake sale to raise the funds that would be required to attend these training programs.  In a few weeks she raised enough to cover the registration to the two programs she selected.  I am one proud mama. So it is from that place that I share her efforts and invite you to hear from her as she works to reach her goal.  Putting it all out there, she’s raising the funds to get to these summer ballet intensives to train further.  Employing the help of her sisters and her father and me, she created a video and fundraising campaign to try and get the rest of the funds before the deadline.  We had hoped for scholarships but that didn’t happen this time around and the costs involved simply are not in our budget, all the scrimping and saving couldn’t make it so.  The sisters worked together to plan, film, and edit the video sharing Ophelia’s love for dance and her willingness to work hard for her dreams.  I am one proud mama. It’s not easy for her to ask for funds to reach these dreams, doing so is just one more indicator of how motivated she is to take risks and work hard towards her goals, goals that include helping others and using her talents to be a voice for the voiceless.  A tenacity that will serve her well through out her life, I believe.  Check out her fundraising campaign, it’s worth watching the video even if you’re not able to donate.  I’m sharing this and I hope you watch it then share it too because I’m one proud mama.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=j9wzWcV_gSs

Last year’s video, it’s amazing to see how much one year changes things even at this age! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycG-NW1UGno

From a needy little baby to an increasingly independent young woman, I am one proud mama.  Thanks for letting me have a proud mama moment! See her fundraiser here, every contribution, big or small, helps:

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this moment- ballet with a big sister

{this moment} – A Friday ritual from Soule Mama, one of my favorite bloggers.  A single photo (or two) – no words – capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.  If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your “moment” in the comments for all to find and see.

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This Moment

{this moment} – A Friday ritual from Soule Mama, one of my favorite bloggers.  A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.  If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your “moment” in the comments for all to find and see.

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