Sixteen years ago, photographer mom Lucy Gray decided to create a series of images that would capture the experience of working motherhood. A chance encounter with a prima ballerina at the market led her to the world of the San Francisco Ballet and the dancers who balanced their onstage careers with their roles as mothers.
Over the course of 15 years, Gray photographed three ballerinas who had children -- Katita Waldo, Tina LeBlanc and Kristin Long. The photographer followed these women as they navigated motherhood and the professional dance world -- pumping during breaks backstage, dancing while pregnant, and playing with their children after curtain call.
"I wanted to get their experiences as dancers and as mothers," Gray told The Huffington Post. "I wanted them to forget about me and become a near silent witness."
Gray turned her series of intimate black and white photos into a book called Balancing Acts: Three Prima Ballerinas Becoming Mothers.
"What I learned was that their hallmark was dedication, and that made them effective as dancers and as mothers," Gray said. While the women had risked "losing it all" when they decided to bear children while working in their competitive field, the photographer said her subjects actually became better dancers when they became mothers. "For these three dancers, letting go of single-minded self-driven rewards and performing for their children put their vocation in perspective."
"It was the fact of doing both simultaneously that made them better at both occupations -- work and child-rearing. This was possible because of supportive husbands who were also working but doing the lion's share of child caring. They all brought the children to the ballet which kept the mother's connected through dancing seasons until they were off and could spend more intense time with their children."
Gray hopes that Balancing Acts will resonate with the millions of working mothers in the U.S. "Half the work force are women, and we might accept that that is a good thing, a necessary situation, and that that does not preclude us from succeeding as mothers as well," she said. "If we as a culture accept this reality then we might begin to support working mothers. If there is any phrase I have come to dislike it is 'having it all.' Why do we tell women that if we are mothers we must give up anything else or fail at everything we do? It just isn't true."
The photographer also wants people to feel the joy and pleasure in her subjects' lives as they embraced the challenge of having children while working. "These ballerinas created babies and roles on stage, perhaps their span of experience is greater than most of ours, but that gives us a bar to aspire to. They became better dancers after they had children and were better mothers because they kept dancing. They needed to work to support their children but they also knew that having careers kept them more interested at home. Both sides to their lives fed the other."
Keep scrolling and watch the book trailer for a preview of some of the stunning images from Balancing Acts: Three Prima Ballerinas Becoming Mothers.