THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY March, Irina Dvorovenko's arabesques were no longer exquisite, but her belly was. Ms. Dvorovenko and her husband, Maxim Beloserkovsky, both principal dancers with American Ballet Theater, were expecting their first child, and her belly formed a smooth, fantastic ball beneath the candy pink cashmere of her sweater.
Usually all taut muscles and bones, Ms. Dvorovenko had acquired a soft, even beatific glow, which could be attributed partly to the 40-plus pounds she had put on and partly to the hormonal mysteries of motherhood. Mr. Beloserkovsky was as fluttery with concern as his wife was calm. ''Before it was, 'Oh my God, those two pounds are killing me,''' he said.
''No,'' Ms. Dvorovenko said. ''It's usually four pounds that kill me, not two.''
At 4:43 a.m. on Thursday, March 24, Ms. Dvorovenko gave birth to a 7-pound 8-ounce girl named Emma Galina Beloserkovsky, bringing the number of mothers in her company to three. After Margaret Tracey and Helene Alexopoulos retired from New York City Ballet in 2002, that company was left with two dancing moms: Darci Kistler and Kyra Nichols. Boston Ballet currently has two dancing mothers, and San Francisco Ballet and Houston Ballet each have four. Those numbers may not be the stuff of a widespread population shift, but for the slim, austere world of professional ballet, they amount to, in the words of Dance magazine, a ''baby boom.''
''The generation of divas before this generation was like, 'Only ballet,''' Mr. Beloserkovsky said. ''Anna Pavlova -- her mother told her, 'No babies. You'll ruin your figure.'''
The couple, who emigrated from Kiev in 1994, worked a decade to establish themselves, securing principal roles, a nice apartment and American citizenship before starting a family. Ms. Dvorovenko, who turned 31 in August, got pregnant during the final weeks of the Metropolitan Opera House season, when she and her husband were dancing as Romeo and Juliet. Even when they didn't yet know she was pregnant, the very possibility energized their dancing. ''What if it's three of us?'' Mr. Beloserkovsky recalled thinking. The prospect was delicious but also anxiety-producing.
''My first concern was: will I be able to dance a full 'Swan Lake' eight weeks pregnant?'' she said. ''The doctor said: 'Listen to your body. If you feel pain or start bleeding, stop immediately.'''
She was also exhausted. ''I'm usually at, like, 200 percent,'' she said. ''I was at, like, 30 percent.'' Ms. Dvorovenko gained only six pounds during her first trimester and was able to hide the pregnancy. ''My stomach didn't show,'' she said. ''Just the body looks a little different.'' When she returned to work that fall, she brushed off her growing glow as the product of an indulgent summer. ''I said we were on vacation in France,'' she said. ''I had too many croissants.''
Nonetheless, in a life of leotards, pregnancies eventually announce themselves. The first person she and her husband told was Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of Ballet Theater. He had called the couple into his office to discuss casting for the season. ''He told us, 'Sit down,''' Mr. Beloserkovsky recalled. ''I said: 'No, you sit down. We are pregnant.' Kevin put his head in his hands and tore the schedule in half.'' Once the scheduling drama was resolved, however, Ms. Dvorovenko said he was ''very supportive.''
GEORGE BALANCHINE, the father of American ballet, sent a mixed message to mothers. Pregnancy may not have been taboo -- Allegra Kent, Melissa Hayden and Karin von Aroldingen all had children while in his employ -- but it wasn't widespread, either. Patricia Wilde, who danced with his City Ballet from 1950 to 1965, recalls, ''He did want you totally involved in what you were doing, but if you could do both things'' -- dance and raise a family -- ''he would never have said, 'Lose that child.''' But, she added: ''Mr. Balanchine wanted me really thin, and that wasn't easy for me. I did have to gain weight to get pregnant.'' She gave birth in 1968, at 40, after she had already left the company.
In the 1970's, dancers created a mock ballet board game, complete with a card that according to company legend, read something like, ''Have a baby, lose two turns.'' When Mr. McKenzie took over Ballet Theater in 1992, there were no mothers in the company. But the next year, three dancers got pregnant within six weeks of one another, including Lucette Katerndahl Besson, then a soloist. Ms. Katerndahl Besson said she was nervous about sharing the news. ''Before the 1990's, you were given the message that it wasn't possible,'' she said. ''If you had a baby, you would probably leave.''
But over time, shifts in attitude -- toward mothers in the workplace and exercise during pregnancy -- began to filter into the ballet world. All three dancers who left the company to give birth that season returned and danced the next .
Today dancing during pregnancy and after childbirth, once a privilege of only the grandest stars, is unexceptional. But the fact remains that for dancers who become pregnant, the body is an instrument of art as well as of motherhood, and those roles can sometimes clash.
Most dancers who are affiliated with a major company are covered by union contracts. Alan S. Gordon, executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, a union representing 75 music, opera and dance companies, said, ''All contracts treat pregnancy leave as sick leave, with full pay, then extended sick leave at some level of pay, and beyond that, each contract is different.''
Members of American Ballet Theater receive four weeks of sick leave, at full pay; when that's used up, they are eligible for state disability pay for up to eight weeks and an additional $400 a week in disability from the company for up to a year.
City Ballet offers 21 sick days, followed by a brief disability leave and up to three months of unpaid leave. Boston Ballet's 21 sick days are followed by 6 months of extended sick pay at $250 a week and 4 months of unpaid leave. Houston Ballet offers its dancers a much longer sick leave -- up to 6 2/3 weeks at full pay, followed by disability at 60 percent of salary -- but they must return to work within four months of their children's births. (A manager at the Richmond Ballet, which is not unionized, said the company could not comment on its maternity policy.)
''The truth is that most women cobble together maternity leave,'' said Jodi Grant, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit advocacy group. ''If they are lucky enough to have sick leave or disability leave or vacation leave, they will do that.''
On Oct. 26, Ms. Dvorovenko, four months pregnant, and Mr. Beloserkovsky performed the pas de deux from the second act of ''Swan Lake.'' ''I was thinking, doing this dance, that the baby would enjoy it as well,'' Ms. Dvorovenko said. Two days later, the company announced that she was on maternity leave.
Many dancers perform into their second trimesters and beyond. Houston Ballet even keeps maternity tutus in its wardrobe department. But unlike other performing arts, in which pregnancy can add to the drama -- as it did in Jennifer Welch-Babidge's 2003 performance in City Opera's ''Lucia di Lammermoor'' -- ballet has an appeal that's rooted in unforgiving, transcendent order. An arabesque is a thing of divine grace, at odds with the deeply corporeal state of pregnancy. Even Mr. Beloserkovsky, who seems to love everything about his wife's body, acknowledges as much. ''With a stomach, the line is not quite as exquisite as when Irina is 108 or 110 pounds,'' he said.
With her first pregnancy, Kyra Nichols performed into her third month. Then, she said, she just got too big. ''We're all so self-conscious about our bodies,'' she explained. ''You don't really want to climb out there in front of a million people and let them watch you get bigger.''
In general, companies say they try to work with a dancer and her doctor to determine performance schedules, but inevitably disagreements occur. In 2000, the Boston Ballet principal dancer Adriana Suarez wanted to dance in Daniel Pelzig's ''Resurrection,'' scheduled for her seventh month of pregnancy. Mr. Pelzig, whose ballet features women recalling the men they had lost to battle, was all for it. But the company said no, citing safety concerns.
In 2001, Tristi Ann McMaster-Robinson, a principal with the Richmond Ballet, was benched against her will after she revealed that she was three months pregnant. ''I debated even telling them,'' she recently said. ''To this day, it's a decision I regret.'' The choreographer Kirk Peterson, who had created a role specifically for her, supported her desire to perform. But in that case, too, the company refused.
About three weeks before opening night, Ms. McMaster-Robinson presented the company with a note from her doctor, approving her decision to dance. But the company wanted her and her obstetrician to sign extensive liability waivers. ''We were not able to get the kind of approval from her doctor we felt was necessary,'' said Stoner Winslett, the ballet's artistic director. Ms. Winslett added, in a letter, that ''the Richmond Ballet has never prevented a pregnant dancer from dancing when the organization has been provided informed medical confirmation that the dancer can continue to dance safely.''
In fact, the issue has not come up often. No Richmond Ballet dancers have given birth and stayed with the company. As for Ms. McMaster-Robinson, her contract was not renewed for the following season. She said negotiations stalled after she revealed her pregnancy. Ms. Winslett said the termination had nothing to do with the pregnancy, but declined to discuss it further.
''It was an absolutely awful time for me,'' Ms. McMaster-Robinson said. ''All I have known in my life was dancing. That's what I love. I prayed to God that no other dancer ever has to go through something like that.''
EVEN dancers who are spared that ordeal still face difficult choices. Before her pregnancy, Ms. Dvorovenko couldn't bear more than a couple of months away from the stage. ''If you don't have a performance, you are like a tiger in a cage,'' she explained. ''I need to be giving my energy, giving my love, giving my beauty. If I'm not performing, I'm trapped.'' Her maternity leave, however, has been a somewhat different story. ''I'm focused on giving my energy to someone else, so I'm doing well,'' she said.
She and Mr. Beloserkovsky delighted in watching her body grow. ''Every day, we acknowledge all the parts,'' he said in an interview before the birth. He embraced the air in front of him, as if he were embracing Ms. Dvorovenko herself, and traced the changes in her torso.
''It's a miracle,'' she said, smiling. When she was wheeled into the delivery room, she had her mother, a former dancer herself, on one side, her husband on the other. All the years of pain she has endured as a dancer did not prepare her for the biblical toil of birth. ''The last 45 minutes, I was screaming like a hurt animal,'' she said.
And then, everything changed. ''They pulled the baby out of me and put it on my stomach, and I started crying,'' she said. ''It's alive, and it came from me. It's amazing. I start to kiss her. Every time they brought her back to me, I start crying.''
Ms. Dvorovenko -- now talking by phone from her apartment, where she was on the floor, stretching -- said she felt really stiff. ''The upper shoulders and neck are sore from pushing,'' she said. ''I feel like I've been lifting a truck. It's the worst soreness I've ever had.'' She plans to let her body heal for six weeks, and then hopes to be in stage shape in time for Ballet Theater's July tour to Japan.
That's an ambitious goal. Marika Molnar of Westside Dance Physical Therapy, who has helped many dancers get back in shape after childbirth, said three to four months is a minimum. ''In my opinion, it should take as long as it took to get the baby,'' she said, adding that strengthening the pelvic floor muscles and abdominals are priorities.
Strong abs or not, it can be tough to manage the grueling demands of ballet and motherhood. Within the dance world, retirement may still be the most common option, especially for rank-and-file dancers who want to have children. Most of the women returning to work in the companies mentioned in this article are principal dancers. Most have one child; some have two; none have three. That's a pattern Stanton Welch, the artistic director of the Houston Ballet, would like to see change. ''Children are part of the human condition,'' he said. ''We, as artists, are meant to represent that exact condition. We need to have women who have had birth to portray characters with the depth we should be. We can't just have 16-year-olds.'' He recently asked two former principals, who had retired when they had children, to return to the company.
How easy it is for mothers to balance life and work depends a lot on the attitude of the artistic director. Mothers at the Houston Ballet and at Ballet Theater, for example, often bring their children to rehearsals and on tour. ''We're like a traveling gypsy group,'' Mr. Welch said. ''At the five-minute break, all the girls run outside to see the baby.''
Many of those who do make it back -- often with the help of nannies and supportive partners -- say they return stronger, more emotionally sophisticated performers. ''It liberated me and gave me a little more instinctive confidence,'' said Ms. Kent, who returned to stage five months after her son was born and is now thinking of having another child.
Three days after giving birth, Ms. Dvorovenko made her way to a ballet studio for a few gentle stretches and floor exercises. ''It was really nice to feel my muscles in the position they are used to,'' she said. But for perhaps the first time, pointe shoes are not the priority.
''Both Maxim and I are just ripping our hearts out from happiness,'' she said. ''Nothing else is worth more than this.''