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.
“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.”