It is uncommon for performing ballerinas to be moms–let alone at the peak of their career. Many ballerinas retire from dancing to start a family, or choose not to have children. But PNB soloist Sarah Ricard Orza is one of today’s current ballerinas changing the status quo. Last May, Sarah and her husband, principal dancer Seth Orza, became the proud parents of Lola May Orza. Now, ten months later, I got the chance to connect with this busy working mom and talk about how she and Seth are making it work.

Lola Orza gets to play dress up with the real deal.

Trailblazing Ballerinas

Before we go much further down this road, it’s important to note that Sarah is not PNB’s first Company dancer to become a mom while still performing; she’s in good company on this road-less-traveled. Former principal dancers Louise Nadeau and Mara Vinson both managed parenting and performing careers with grace, and soon-to-be-retired principal dancer Kaori Nakamura was back onstage just two months after her daughter Maya was born. Sarah acknowledges the accomplishments of her fellow dancing moms saying, “the women I’ve watched do this made it look easy and effortless–it isn’t.” To meet the demands of a career and parenting, you’ve got to have a good plan and a great partner; listening to Sarah talk, it’s clear she has both.

The Orzas at Vail International Dance Festival (Summer 2013).

Orza, Party of Three

Like many working parents, Sarah and Seth rely on support from a nanny and family members for day-to-day childcare. Their nanny typically takes the morning shift and Sarah’s mom takes over in the afternoons and evenings. Fortunately, a home close to PNB’s studios means that, depending on rehearsal schedules for the day, one or both parents can run home to squeeze in extra quality time with Lola. Sarah readily admits that the demands of Company life stretch them as parents saying, “Being dancers, we’re physically exhausted in addition to the fatigue all parents experience. Dancing and performing just add another level of difficulty to parenting.”

Like all babies, Lola Orza loves cardboard boxes, especially the pink ones from Bloch.

Backstage Parenting

Sarah began easing her way back in to performing last September when Lola was just four months old, but emphasizes, “I didn’t really feel like myself physically until the end of Nutcracker when she was 6 months old.” Sarah has a great sense of humor about her family’s unique situation and readily admits that things can get complicated during performance weeks: “We play each show by ear and it really depends on what roles each of us is performing. The Sleeping Beauty was hard because it’s a three hour ballet, and I danced in every show–sometimes two a day with matinees. I stocked the freezer with breast milk beforehand, and Seth brought Lola to me on double-show days so I could feed her between the Prologue and Act 1.” Yes, you read that right, Sarah was performing up to 6 hours a day during the run of Beauty, and while patrons enjoyed their snacks in the lobby during intermission, Sarah was busy parenting backstage–breastfeeding and/or pumping before changing costumes for the next act. And Seth, who danced in four performances of The Sleeping Beauty, including two as the Prince, was there to support efforts every step of the way.

Baby Lola is on move and knows what she wants….organic kale!  

Future Ballerina Super Moms
I ask Sarah if she thinks we’ll see more dancers having children and she hesitates a bit before answering,“It’s becoming more doable, but only because people are doing it. You have to put yourself out there and change the stereotype, change people’s expectations.” Sarah is steadfast in her conviction that dancers should be able chose a family, if they want one, without sacrificing the career they have trained for most of their lives, “When I first fell in love with ballet at the age of 4, and again at 12, I was not thinking about starting a family. I got my first job when I was 17 and I still wasn’t thinking about it. But, when Seth and I started dating in our early 20’s, we talked about wanting to be parents. That was part of our decision in leaving New York City Ballet to come to Seattle. My priority has always been to have a life and enjoy it. Sometimes that’s hard in this career–you’re expected to put your art first. It’s a career with a limited time span but, as a woman, your chance to have children is limited too. If you’re going to do it you’re going to need to do it while you’re dancing. At a certain point you just have to say ‘it’s going to be now’,  because there’s always going to be another role you want to do or another promotion you want to reach for.” After talking with Sarah, it’s clear that the Orzas are doing much more than “making it work”. They are doing an amazing job of making the most of every moment, whether it’s playing dress up backstage or at relaxing at home together. Bravo, Orza family!

Blog by Judith May Austin; Orza family photos.

Featured photo: Soloist Sarah Orza with daughter Lola backstage during The Sleeping Beauty