We are excited to introduce you to Kristina Berger, the first mom to be featured in our “Moms in the Arts” series. Kristina is a master dancer, dance professor, and mother to a very cute and vivacious three year old daughter. Kristina has danced professionally since the age of 18, and her impressive biography includes names such as the Guggenheim award wining Molissa Fenley & Dancers, Lester Horton Dance Theatre, Inc, Washington Opera Ballet, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and many others.
Kristina is currently a Principal Dancer with The Erick Hawkins Dance Company, a Dance Professor at The Joan Palladino School of Dance at Dean College, and has been collaborating on several of her own pieces. We caught up with Kristina in between rehearsals and, in true multi-tasking mom style, Kristina answered interview questions while pushing her daughter on the swings. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into her life and interesting to see that although her schedule and professional demands look different from the typical 9-5 existence many of us lead, her struggles and joys as a mother are extremely similar.
What is the hardest thing about balancing motherhood and your career?
Before I moved here from New York City I decided, perhaps over ambitiously, that I was’t going to stop anything I was doing and everything was going to be exactly the same. I still tour with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company and for other festivals/workshops as a guest artist performer and teacher, and since kids fly free until the age two, my daughter travelled everywhere with me until she was two.
I was breastfeeding and carrying not only Sabina, but her bags and was pushing myself a lot. I would travel, arrive at a place, give her to a new babysitter, go straight into rehearsal, not warm up properly, and breastfeed backstage. I ended up with a major tear in my shoulder.
So for me, the hardest thing has been the physical challenges of being a mom and a professional dancer. Your body has just undergone an insane change and I went back into it very quickly. I’ve had to realize that between giving birth and a lifetime of Dance with wear and tear over the (many!) years, my movement quality and range is going to be different now, not to mention my priorities as a human. Being pregnant and having this beautiful child and taking her with me on all these adventures taught me this in an exciting but not a very elegant way.
How do you make it work?
I’ve had incredibly supportive and wonderful people along the way. I am able to do what I do because of the humans I know. This year Sabina will spend the whole summer with me at Lake Tahoe Dance Festival directed by Christin Hanna where I will preform and teach. There are a lot of companies who would say “no thank you,” or “figure it out yourself,” or “leave her at home,” but instead, they’re setting up ballet classes for my daughter.
Also, in touring with Erick Hawkins Dance Company under the direction of Katherine Duke, I’ve learned to work really fast. While the rest of the company is somewhere rehearsing for two weeks, I might be there for four days.
And there are such wonderful positives to it. I’m not allowed to have an ego any more. Things that used to bother me don’t any more. Dance is a competitive field, and whether it’s about technical proficiency, or appearance, or how much I’ve done compared to someone else, it all has just gone out the window since having a child.
I am completely exhausted and oftentimes in pain but I’m very happy.
What do you think having a mom who is an artist brings to your daughter’s life?
I think it has given her an incredible imagination and great social skills. Sabina has been around performers since she was three months old. She is often the most social kid on the playground because she is around so many characters all the time.
Sabina is independent, she has a love of music, and she loves to move. It’s totally normal for her to just get up and start dancing. She is physically active, super nimble, and has great balance. All she wants to do at home is dance. It gives her passion; it allows her to feel graceful and elegant. It gives her a sense of power, which is important for young girls, or anybody really, but especially young girls since it is not necessarily the quality they are most encouraged to present.
What is a typical day like?
I get up at 5:30 in the morning and do whatever exercises I can do for myself, which is very little because my daughter usually gets up with me. Then we catch the train and I will proceed to teach three classes, maybe with a break in between. And in my break I rehearse my own pieces or work with students. In the evening on certain days I run rehearsal with the dance students. So sometimes my day consists of leaving the house at seven in the morning and coming home at midnight. Or, leaving the house at seven in the morning and coming home at seven, and then of course, I’m with my daughter, so theres’s no downtime. But I’m fortunate because I’m doing what I love. Right now my schedule is lighter so I have what I thought would be a break, but I’m spending more time with my daughter, which means it’s actually more intense. Dealing with 130 dance students or one three year old? It’s more intense with the three year old. It is the most rewarding amazing thing in the world, but it’s also the most crazy. Thank all the gods for wine; that’s all I am saying.
As a mom who is busy and pulled in so many directions, why should I make the arts a priority in my life?
The world is in a state of devastation and havoc. Every day there occurs yet another event that breaks my heart and in my experience art is the only way to deal with it, to escape it, but also to get right in the middle of it and understand that we have to keep going.
As moms, we have (in a different way) disastrous things happening in our own worlds and we need to be totally spontaneous and realize that we can’t plan any of this. Art is a way of making the world more magical and more beautiful. You can use it to escape and go into a world of more whimsy, as well as to delve into the stuff that makes us hurt the most and ultimately find a way to heal ourselves and hopefully others. Art helps us to not only to escape it but figure out how to deal with it. Art teaches us how to flow.
Where can we see you perform next?
In June, I will be joining the band Tributary for several jazz and dance concerts. Locally, you can see me at As220 in Providence on June 19th. I will also be performing with Tributary on June 18th in West Roxbury, and June 21st in Franklin. More details and ticket information can be found on Tributary’s Facebook Page.
These performances have come out of a collaboration between myself and Tributary’s pianist and are particularly special and personal to me as both a dancer and a mother. At this stage in my dance career, an exciting new time is unfolding of creating my own work with other artists who are super talented and inspiring while being able to combine passion and flexibility. We are proud of what we have created and hope you are able to see the show.
At Providence Moms Blog, we are passionate about the amazing multi-dimensionality of motherhood and aim to support mothers in their role as “mom” while encouraging them to honor all the other aspects of their identity. We believe that the arts are an essential part of what makes us human and encourage all moms to make the arts a part of their own and their children’s lives.