Partner dancing with three: Ballroom dancing during pregnancy

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Ballroom dancing traditionally only requires two people, but for ballroom dancer Shaylia Johnson, it takes three: her partner, herself and her unborn son. Despite being eight months pregnant, Johnson is still taking several upper-level ballroom dance classes and even competed in this year’s National Amateur Dancesport Championships. 

Shaylia Johnson
Shaylia Johnson dances the samba with partner Ben Wear. Johnson is eight months pregnant. (Photo by Chris Bunker)

“I got the OK from my midwives who said, ‘As long as you’re feeling up to it, you’re fine to dance,'” Johnson said. “When you get pregnant, they don’t want you starting any new exercise programs, and so I think since I had been dancing so much it wasn’t a very big concern … and really there are pregnant people who run marathons and it’s just based on where you are at in your physical health. They just don’t want you starting anything new that could stress out your body. … Really, it’s not going to hurt the baby at all, it will just help him be healthier.”

The first trimester for Johnson was rough because she occasionally felt sick while dancing. The second trimester was pretty easy, but the third trimester is when things started to get interesting because the baby got much bigger.

Sometimes Johnson is surprised by her own reflection when dancing because she is not accustomed to the look of her pregnant belly.

“It has been funny because I’ve started to get bigger, and then in Latin (style dancing) I’m like, ‘My hips can’t move,'” Johnson said. “I’m so used to my body looking and moving a certain way, especially in dance classes, because you look in the mirror all the time and so it’s weird to look up and be like, ‘OK that’s not quite what I thought I was looking like.’ … It is kind of funny to look a little bit big. Compared to all the other dancers it’s like, ‘I feel huge.'”

The dynamic between herself and dance partners has also been something that took getting used to. Johnson said it is difficult to be connected to her partner in the same way and that adjustments have to be made with dance frame and hand placement.

“It’s just really funny because (you usually connect) through your hips, but your hips can’t make it to your partner because your belly’s there,” Johnson said. “It’s also a little funny in Latin (class) when they aren’t quite sure where exactly to put their hands around the waist.”

These adjustments have been easy for Johnson, and she attributes this to the fact that her dance experience makes her familiar with body contact and the situations aren’t awkward.

“As a dancer, your space bubble is different than most people and so it’s kind of just like, ‘Oh, whatever,'” Johnson said.

For this year’s National Amateur Dancesport Championships, Johnson decided to compete in several events, including Open Latin with her dance partner Ben Wear. They were determined to just have fun and hopefully make a few callbacks, which they did.

“It was kind of a spontaneous decision to do Dancesport,” Johnson said. “I went into it just knowing I was going to have fun. … Also, being pregnant just makes it more difficult to look as good.”

Ben Wear, a landscape management major and ballroom dance minor, said when he and Johnson prepared for the competition they had to make more space in their frame to accommodate the baby. With other partners, Wear was able to get really close and establish direct connection.

“We had to alter frames slightly to allow for the extra space the baby was taking,” Wear said. “You come in close to a girl normally, and you’re like (rib to hip) etc., and with Shaylia it was like rib, baby. It wasn’t bad, but we had to adjust.”

Shaylia Jhonson in her Latin costume for the National Amateur Dancesport Championships (photo courtesy Shaylia Jhonson)
Shaylia Jhonson in her Latin costume for the National Amateur Dancesport Championships. (Photo courtesy Shaylia Jhonson)

Wear tried to be aware of the baby when dancing with Johnson and was occasionally uncertain about how much pressure he could apply to her waist or stomach.

“My main concerns were in Latin where we hold onto the lady’s stomach and whirl her around,” Wear said. “I was afraid of applying more pressure. I was afraid of injuring her and her baby, more the baby because she’s been dancing and knows how things need to be.”

Despite these concerns, Wear feels like the partnership was very relaxed and that they were there to have fun. Wear was especially impressed by how hard Johnson worked.

“Despite the pregnancy, she gave the same amount of effort, which was nice,” Wear said. “She may have been tired sometimes, but she never had a problem keeping up.”

Johnson’s husband, Bryan Johnson, said he supports his wife’s dancing.

“I’ve never had any major concerns,” Bryan Johnson said. “She enjoys dancing so I just let her do her thing. … In a way, it relaxes her, and in some ways I think it helps.”

The Johnsons both find humor in the situation and often joke about the baby’s dependence on movement and ballroom dance music.

“We just always joke around by saying the only way we’re going to get the baby to sleep is by playing samba music,” Bryan Johnson said.

The Johnsons also joke that when mom finally goes to sleep, the baby wants to keep moving.

“The baby gets up and starts dancing,” Bryan Johnson said.

Shaylia Johnson hopes this experience will make her a better dancer after she has had the baby.

“I hope that I’ve worked hard enough that when I finally can dance like a regular person again, it will be like, ‘Oh this is so much easier, and I really have improved,” Shaylia Johnson said.

With family close and the potential for her husband to work from home, Shaylia Johnson intends to continue doing what she loves by dancing and going to school after having her baby.

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