Ballerina dances on, but motherhood is centre stage
Sonia Rodriguez balances work and family, guilt free
by Erica Ehm
Rodriguez with children Dillon and Gabriel and husband, Kurt Browning
“I loved being pregnant. I danced through my whole pregnancy. My son’s delivery lasted an hour and a half.”
IT’S OFFICIAL. Sonia Rodriguez, principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada and I, media person who sits on her butt and writes, are at opposite ends of the motherhood spectrum. Two months after delivering her son Gabriel (now six years old), she was back at work, in shape, dancing. I, on the other hand, was a stumbling, rumpled and tired mom.
And yet, when we chat on the phone, we have so much in common. We both have two kids (Rodriguez’s youngest, Dillon, is 21 months) and … hmm … well, we both have husbands. Hers just happens to be Kurt Browning, one of the most renowned figureskaters in the world.
Rodriguez was born in Toronto, but studied dance in Madrid with Pedro de la Cruz and at the Princess Grace Academy in Monaco. She started with the National Ballet in 1990, when she was just 17. She was promoted to Second Soloist in 1995, to First Soloist in 1997 and to Principal Dancer in 2000. She married Browning in 1996.
In her early days with the company, the culture of the times and the community dictated that it was unheard of for a ballerina to have a child and remain in the company. A baby meant retirement.
That culture has completely changed. My own friend, ballerina Jennifer Fournier, left the ballet company to have her daughter Olivia eight years ago. Then she surprised everyone by choosing to return to work, stronger and better than ever.
Rodriguez followed soon after with the birth of Gabriel and also experienced a postpartum dancing high. When Rodriguez returned, she felt “empowered as a mom. Invincible. I can tackle anything. Performing? What’s the big deal? I just created life.” And suddenly the baby floodgates were open. Four more births from ballerinas around the time of Rodriguez’s second pregnancy. Prima ballerina Chan Hon Goh became a mom. And just recently, three more wee ones were born to dancing mamas.
It came as no surprise to me that Rodriguez’s biggest challenge as a mother is to let go. A high achiever in all she does, she admits that not being able to control everything is hard for her. “Kurt wondered if I could actually let go,” she says. “The best advice I ever got about being a mom was to not stress about everything. I try, but I still like everything to be perfect.”
Scheduling family time is tough. Browning is on the road a lot and Rodriguez’s hours are varied and erratic. A support team made up of a nanny and her mom, who occasionally moves in to lend a hand, is the key to keeping the family running smoothly.
“It was so important to have this support group so I could go back to work and focus, not worry,” she says. Rodriguez has no guilt about pursuing her career and balancing a family life. In fact, the best advice she could pass on to moms is to make sure to find time for yourself, to make sure you’re in a good place to keep fully happy.
“If I’m not happy, I can’t keep anyone else around me happy,” she says.
At the end of a day of dance, Rodriguez comes home to her two energetic boys. “Whoever told me that two kids are easier than one was wrong,” she says laughing. It’s hard keeping up with them.
But motherhood shows me how unselfish I can be. I feel like a better person for it.” “There’s nothing better in the world than snuggling in bed in the morning when we’re all still half asleep and my son whispers, “I love you, Mommy.”
Do the cuddles compare to the thunderous applause in a theatre after a performance? I ask. Rodriguez thinks for a second. “Being onstage is what I love. But nothing is as rewarding as being a mom.”
Another thing we have in common.
Post City Magazines’ parenting columnist, Erica Ehm is the voice of yummy mummies with her playful website yummymummyclub.ca. After all, mommies need to play, too.