Photos of working moms in the world’s most brutal, beautiful profession

For more than a decade, photographer Lucy Gray followed three professional ballerinas through motherhood and back to work for her 2015 book, Balancing Acts: Three Prima Ballerinas Becoming Mothers.

“I was at the supermarket with my son when I saw this woman,” Gray tells Quartz. “She looked very gaunt and strange and she was holding her baby.” When a friend told Gray that the woman was a dancer for the San Francisco Ballet, she immediately knew she wanted to photograph the dancer and her baby.

“I was interested in the subject of working mothers,” Gray says. Professional dance is a brutally unforgiving profession, and ballerinas, who rarely return to work after giving birth, proved to be the perfect subject for Gray.

Kai plays the piano with his mother, Kristin, in a rehearsal room at San Francisco Ballet. (Lucy Gray/Princeton Architectural Press)

“Giving birth is very frightening for ballerinas because they see the world through their bodies. It’s their livelihood,” Gray says. The high stakes made entering into motherhood a gamble for Kristin, Tina, and Katita, the three women featured in Gray’s book. But in each woman’s case, Gray says, it paid off.

“Their dancing all got better after they became mothers,” Gray tells Quartz. “That was the extraordinarily exciting thing, that being mothers made them better dancers and that dancing made them better mothers.”

Gray sees her work as an important part of the conversation about motherhood in the United States, which largely pits having children against having a successful career. “No one considers that having a child might maximize your potential,” Gray says. “In these women’s cases, their children all helped them be less self conscious. It made them relax just enough so that they didn’t think it was the end of the world if they fell.”

Katita breast-feeds James in her dressing room after a performance of George Balanchine’s “Bugaku.” (Lucy Gray/Princeton Architectural Press)
Kristin rehearses as Kai looks on. (Lucy Gray/Princeton Architectural Press)
Sasha has been fed and is napping, so Tina can work out. (Lucy Gray/Princeton Architectural Press)
Kristin and Stephen Legate rehearse “Romeo and Juliet” while Kai watches from the lap of Legate’s wife, Evelyn Cisneros, an extremely popular ballerina who had retired recently from San Francisco Ballet to start a family. (Lucy Gray/Princeton Architectural Press)
Damian Smith and Kristin perform “Sandpaper Ballet.” (Lucy Gray/Princeton Architectural Press)
The ballerinas and their sons: Katita Waldo and James Crutcher; Tina LeBlanc and Marinko Jerkunica; Kristin and Kai Long, backstage after a performance of “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude.” (Lucy Gray/Princeton Architectural Press)
The dressing room the three dancers shared from 1999 to 2009, during the making of this book. (Lucy Gray/Princeton Architectural Press)
Katita tells her son James a funny story. (Lucy Gray/Princeton Architectural Press)
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