Dancing for Birth Classes in Canada!
DMTAC is thrilled to share this post by Alberta's regional representative Meghan Thom on her experience with Dancing for Birth facilitator Julie Frykberg of Timeless Journey Therapeutic! Read on to learn about Dancing for Birth and how you can get involved as a participant or even facilitator!
You’re pregnant with your first child; you don’t know what to expect; you step into a room witha pile of belly dancing coin skirts arranged in a colourful pile, and a swirl of affirmations cards laid out on the floor. What have you just stepped into? Dancing for Birth of course!
Julie Frykberg is a pioneer Dancing for Birth facilitator and educator in Canada. She is a women’s health and maternity care specialist in Innisfail Alberta, with over 30 years of experience supporting women through pregnancy and birth. Her many hats include being a registered massage therapist; certified infant massage therapist; Lamaze certified; Montessori educator (UK); certified doula (DONA); and – my favourite - Dancing for Birth instructor and educator.
Julie was one of the first Dancing for Birth instructors in Canada; and the second facilitator-trainer. The founder of Dancing for Birth, Stephanie Larson (featured in a short video below), calls it the “‘trifecta’ of birth preparation: feel-good prenatal fitness, childbirth education, and celebration of pregnancy, birth, and parenting, all rolled into a weekly 90-minute class that supports you from preconception through postpartum.” Julie confesses “I thought it was a little hokey at first” but after several years of teaching, it has become an integral part of her pre and post partum support for pregnant mothers.
While Dancing for Birth prescribes different movements and provides facilitators with tools like affirmations cards and music, Julie explains that the design of each class is up to the facilitator. As she describes a typical class the way she teaches it, her passion and enthusiasm for teaching seep into every word. She decorates the space according to different themes: Hawaiian night; belly dance night; welcoming a new baby night - and spreads a set of specially designed cards on the floor to spark conversation around pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery. She also provides a selection of coin-covered belly-dancing scarves for participants to wear while they dance. Julie likes to watch people’s faces as they walk in; they’re usually overwhelmed with how beautiful everything looks, or scared because it all seems a little on the far side. After the gathering circle, and some time for questions and answers, Julie provides some education on things like birth traditions around the world and optimal fetal positioning - and then the movement begins!
The core movements in the Dancing for Birth curriculum come from traditional dance practices from around the world, like Belly Dance, and all have specific benefits for pregnant, birthing, and post-partum bodies. These are incorporated into choreographed dances that participants learn through one, or multiple sessions; as well as free-flow dance. The session is completed with a closing movement ritual; a wind-down circle; more time for questions and answers; and affirmations cards with statements such as “My body knows what to do”. Julie notes that she likes to offer a snack at the end, and leave the moms to chat and bond. She has always hosted her Dancing for Birth classes on a Friday evening, even though people told her that was a foolish idea from a business perspective. As she explains: pregnant and postpartum moms generally aren’t spending their Friday nights at bars or parties anymore; this gives them a chance to have a fun Friday night out with the girls!
So is Dancing for Birth only for girls? It depends on the instructor. In Julie’s classes, pregnant mothers are welcome to bring their female partners; friends; female family members; and/or their doula, but it is designed from a feminine perspective, and its generally women only – except for Dad’s nights. Julie runs her sessions over 6- or 8-week blocks, and if all the moms agree, then they designate a Dad night and do some partner dancing, and hands-on comfort techniques for pregnancy and birth.
What are the benefits of all this bootylicious fun and frolicking? Apparently, many! Health benefits for mom and baby include improved circulation; and dancing through pregnancy and birth can reduce pain and shorten labor. Pregnant mom’s exposure to postpartum moms, who may be breastfeeding, supports their own breastfeeding success, and gives them a taste of what is to come when baby arrives! The combination of birthing education and hearing about other mom’s birth stories can reduce anxiety about birth, and increase confidence. The gentle movement also supports recovery following birth, and the sessions can reduce postpartum depression. Unlike prenatal yoga or fitness classes, moms can come to Dancing for Birth the day after their baby is born – and according to Julie they do! Having built a community and such strong bonds, mothers are often eager to show off their new baby and share their birth story. Some moms have even gone into labor in a Dancing for Birth class! And they keep dancing in the delivery room - even when they are 8cm dilated! Mothers are welcome to keep coming as long as they can comfortably wear their baby – but the friendships that are formed in classes last years beyond that! Julie’s favorite part about teaching Dancing for Birth is seeing the bonds form between parents and seeing mothers grow in confidence as they connect with and move their bodies.
Sadly, not all pregnancies end with a healthy, happy baby, and this is welcomed at Dancing for Birth too. Mothers who experience miscarriages and stillbirths are welcome to keep coming, and Julie discusses these challenges as part of childbirth education, even if the participants aren’t experiencing them. Information and education empower parents to make the choices that make sense for them. Julie shared a story of a participant who discovered that her baby was not compatible with life, and who was offered a termination. With the support of the other group members, the mother decided to embrace the rest of her pregnancy and continued to plan the birth of her baby, even though she knew that baby wouldn’t make it. As Julie describes, through the group this mother had access to information about her options; a sense of community, and emotional support; and she was able to exercise her right to take pleasure in her pregnancy and birth experience, even with the knowledge that her baby would not be with her for long. A fundamental aspect of Dancing for Birth is that all mothers are welcome, regardless of their birth or parenting experience or philosophy. Julie explains that she provides information and support, but no shaming or advice. “Whatever it is you choose to do, you are accepted.”
LMA Movement Break-Down
Karen Bradley is an expert in Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) and states the salient movement pattern in Dancing for Birth is the lateral and three-dimensional movement of the pelvis, with flow and ease, with slightly bent and soft knees, and the inclusion of rotational arm movements. The value of the sequences is awareness of the internal space of the pelvis with a relaxed flux that allows the fluids to flow through and warm and cleanse the connective tissue around and between the bones. She graciously offered an LMA breakdown of the movements in this video featuring Dancing for Birth founder Stephanie Larson:
Warmup: Pelvic initiation of movement in curvilinear trace-forms, lateral and sagittal patterns.
Sway: Core initiation of lateral pelvic swaying, supported by soft flexed knees, with slow rhythmic phrasing Another version: Wide stance, deep flexion of hips, knees, ankles. Contralateral expansion of arms in relation to the opposite deeply flexed legs (an “X”) with lateral swaying through the pelvis. She includes an increasing pulse of diminished Bound Flow at the lateral point of each sway.
Shimmy: Weight shift through the feet adding lateral pelvic shift with the shift in the feet the weight is on, decreasing the weight shift in the feet and increasing the speed of the lateral shift in the pelvis while raising the arms above the head shimmy-ing throughout the entire torso. As the arms lower, rotation in the lower arms with slow flow adds a counterpoint to the ongoing quick releasing of the torso shimmy.
Stomp: Upper body bends forward and hands are placed on the upper thighs which are in deep flexion. Weight shift to one leg while the other lifts off the floor and then drops with Strong Weight. Shift to other side, lift the other leg in flexion (still bent forward with hands on both thighs), drop leg with Strong Weight. Alternative Stomp: Knees bent, pelvis rocks forward and backwards while one leg at a time is lifted slightly off the floor and then lands in Strong Weight, Arms incidentally reach forward and back with bent elbows, palms up, as pelvis goes forward and back with the Stomp.
Squat: Bend forward with the upper body and brace arms against a wall or piece of furniture, Knees are soft and slightly bent and tailbone is pointing behind. Rotation, flexion, extension of the lower back in undulating rhythms. This movement is three-dimensional. An option is to do a three-dimensional figure eight/infinity sign while bracing the upper body against the wall or furniture, still bent forward at the hips.
A-Symmetry: Standing feet are hip-width apart, knees are slightly bent. As the mover lifts up one leg so the ball of the foot is softly on the floor but not weight-bearing, the mover lifts that hip, recovers, and repeats on the opposite side. The Asymmetry comes from the arms. Which reach across the midline and down toward the moving leg and then open into an X, with each arm high and spread open.
Julie’s advice to anyone thinking of becoming a Dancing for Birth facilitator is: do it! You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose. You’ll be part of an international community, and can teach anywhere in the world! There is no license fee or annual fee, and the training is recognized by both DONA and Lamaze.
And Julie’s advice to first-time moms? Trust your body, trust your instincts, and get dancing! You can search a Dancing for Birth professional near you here.
About the Author
Meghan is a Dance Movement Psychotherapist and DMTAC's regional representative for Alberta; She is a yoga teacher; LaLeche League facilitator; birth and babies enthusiast, and breastfeeding advocate. She is also on the Board of her local Toy Library (something every community should have!). Meghan loved having Julie as her doula, and enjoyed dancing her own baby out into the world!