About Dancing

“When a normal, healthy child is born, usually in the father’s compound, the women perform the nkwa to rejoice. Then…they sing and dance their way to the compounds of the mother’s kin to inform them of the joyous event through the dance-play, gathering additional dancers as it moves from compound to compound. In this nkwa, in which only married women who have given birth perform, the dancers highlight procreative body parts, birth exercises and child care gestures.” – page 164, Hanna JL, To Dance is Human: a theory of non-verbal communication, 1979. Rev. ed. 1987.

From its inception in 1979, Dancing Thru Pregnancy® has been inspired by this passage from Judith Lynne Hanna’s amazing text, in which she describes how the Ubakala of Nigeria “announce” the birth of a child. The dance serves a dual purpose – it tells of the birth, but it also teaches the uninitiated how pregnancy and birth occur. For the dancers it also serves as a catharsis.

As a professional dancer, I long ago recognized the transformative power of dance to make experiences accessible.Molly and Miri Through Hanna’s writing we see how dance is itself one of the earliest and most profound ways in which common human experiences are taught and learned. Contemporary culture often removes this type of learning from our environment. Employing dance to help women approach birth has always struck me as an obvious first choice in preparing women for the physical, emotional, identity-forming and joyful process of birth.

In the intervening years, science and technology have reinforced our understanding of how this non-verbal learning happens. A most excellent discussion of mirror neurons appears in Acharya and Shukla’s article, Mirror Neurons: Enigma of the metaphysical modular brain, J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2012 Jul-Dec; 3(2): 118–124. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510904/. Mirror neurons are key to how empathy and understanding of experience are produced when people view movement and gesture. The mere perception of an action sets off a low level firing of the neural pathway that executes the actions we are seeing. The authors provide a thorough grounding in the history of how we have come to recognize that mirror neurons exist and how they work.

There are more arenas in which dance also shines as a preparation. Appropriately choreographed, dance enables excellent physical fitness and includes all the elements of physical activity that research demonstrates are effective for optimal health in pregnancy and coping with the rigors of birth. From the perspective of exercise physiology, labor is an ultra-distance endurance event, followed by a strength test (birth), a long physical recovery period and 18 years or more of sleep deprivation. And, further, such a preparation aids the mother in achieving a physiologic birth as described in Buckley’s “Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and implications for women, babies, and maternity care.” This recent groundbreaking article describes how labor, birth and breastfeeding are promoted through hormonal actions, as well as why some technological advances in childbirth are working against these processes.

DTP at YH 12:13Achieving cardiovascular endurance (aerobic fitness) is essential. There are so many benefits of aerobic fitness that a full recitation and hundreds of citations will not fit in a blog. Our teacher training aerobic component takes several days, even for experienced fitness pros. But, to summarize: cardiovascular fitness improves implantation, enhances nutrient and oxygen delivery, reduces the incidence or severity of some pregnancy disorders, reduces the risk of fetal distress, reduces stress on maternal cardiac reserve while pushing, reduces the risk of cesarean, hastens recovery, helps maintain a healthy weight, alleviates anxiety, builds body-image confidence (Cochrane) and enhances long term maternal and fetal health. The two forms of cardio or aerobic activity most often cited for effectiveness are running and aerobic dancing.

Two other elements of dance that are useful for pregnant, birthing and parenting moms are strength and flexibility. There are Elongemany movement actions derived from numerous dance forms that promote both power and elasticity in the muscles, connective tissue and skeletal structure. Some effective positions, movements and skills are shared with other disciplines: Traditional childbirth preparation, weight training, gymnastics, physical therapy, yoga, t’ai chi, pilates, boot camp, plyometrics, proprioceptor neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) techniques, Feldenkrais, Alexander, somatic therapies, posture training, etc.

This letter I received recently from a (not pregnant) ballet student willing to share her experience is a clear reminder of how a well-designed dance class accomplishes enhancement of strength and flexibility, along with confidence about working with one’s body:

“Hi Ann,

I just wanted to let you know that I lifted weights at the gym last night… It had been at least 6 months since I had lifted weights at all, and so I figured I’d need to start at a relatively low weight and I’d be really sore the next day regardless. I was very surprised to find that I could easily lift the maximum weight I’ve ever lifted, which was the weight I used to lift at a time when I was lifting weights routinely several times a week. Every muscle group was strong. And today I am not sore at all. This is all to say that I am shocked at how much strength I’ve gained from ballet. I had no idea that just lifting my limbs against gravity could be so effective.

Thank you so much for having a class for beginner adults, and for your patience with all of us! I’m 42 years old at this point, and started ballet because I had noticed my core strength, flexibility and balance starting to really decline…I am so thrilled with the results from ballet even though I have such a long way to go!!! Plus it’s really fun. How I wish I would have discovered ballet in my 20s or 30s, since I didn’t learn it as a child!

Glenda G. Callender, MD FACS

An additional arena in which dance shines is in building mind-body skills. Dancing relies on centering – aligning with gravity to produce the greatest efficiency for movement (balance) along with breathing as a component of movement. Centering also reduces the load on the nervous system and allows the brain to modulate into the parasympathetic nervous system state, also known as the relaxation response (autogenic training, hypnosis, meditation, progressive relaxation), the zone (athletes’ term), mindfulness (big in research presently), the trophotropic response (the scientific term) or the alpha state (the current fad term). Dancers sometimes refer to this as tuning in to the unconscious. The actual coordination of motions, such as pushing, is primarily unconscious. The conscious piece is keeping a clear image of the goal, while allowing the body to work. This is the skill that allows the birthing mother to follow her body’s urges, flowing with the labor rather than trying to control what is going on. It gives her access to the cathartic nature of birth as a dance.

Centering 2:08Align


Focus on the breath

Sense the movement within

Then, allow the body to dance…

A part of the dance experience I truly enjoy is a phenomenon known as muscle bonding. When a group does vigorous physical activity together – dancing together, a sports team, a drill team – a special kind of bond forms. Part of the euphoria is this muscle bonding experience.  Those of us whose interest lies in understanding the mechanics of such things have a pretty good idea how this works – some of which is laid out in this blog and the reading links. But, that is not the wonder of it. The wdancing_overview from backonder of it is what the Ubakala women experience moving together to announce the birth of a child.

When I am dancing with my pregnant ladies and we are in the grove with our modified hip hop routine, we are smiling at each other and feeling completely alive. We are breathing hard and working hard, but we are strong. My hope is always that when she senses that labor and birth are starting, a mom-to-be can get in that groove with the baby and support person. Birth as a dance.

No blog on pregnancy or birth is complete without a caveat. Every pregnancy and birth is unique. Sometimes things go wrong. But, mostly they go right! And, moms can optimize the experience. One of the greatest dangers to pregnancy and birth is sedentary behavior. Regular, vigorous, strength-inducing, flexibility gaining, mindfulness, relaxation muscle bonding fun is available. Check our U.S. and International Find-a-Class listing. If there is nothing near you, start something!

Dispelling Myths on Pregnancy Exercise

At regular intervals, it becomes necessary to dispel two persistent myths that are often perpetuated by well-meaning care providers. Both of them were debunked long ago, in research literature that is readily available and about which I have written a great deal, including in my chapters on Women and Exercise (editions 3 & 4) and Health Promotion in Varney’s Midwifery (edition 5), in posts on the DTP website, on my Twitter feed (@anncowlin), on DTP’s Facebook page and in a textbook.

DTP_mover1_pregnantThe more common myth is that pregnant women should never let their pulse get over 140 beats per minute. But, more on that one at another time. That was an ACOG guess in 1985 that long ago (1994) was rescinded.

The other is that pregnant women should never begin a new exercise regimen, but only modify (i.e., reduce) what they are already doing. What brings me to write this blog after a blog break (to respond to our expanding pre/postnatal fitness teacher training program) is that this evening I was told the latter myth was promoted by a CNM at a recent nearby conference. A childbirth education colleague alerted me to this occurrence and also to the happy response by an unknown person in the audience, who chose to differ with the midwife, citing Dancing Thru Pregnancy® as her example!! Thank you to this responder.

Let me address – yet again – the issue of whether it is safe for pregnant women to begin an exercise regimen after they become pregnant. The caveat I offer at the outset is that doing so should be under the supervision of a knowledgeable certified pre/postnatal fitness specialist. Within the profession, the resolution of this question is generally agreed to be the Cochrane Review conducted in 2002, which found that aerobic fitness can be improved or maintained in pregnancy. Improvement requires increasing the level of aerobic challenge. More recently, researchers concluded “….pregnant women benefit from regular physical activity the same way as non pregnant subjects…” and that “…[t]he adoption or continuation of a sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy may contribute to the development of certain disorders such as hypertension, maternal and childhood obesity, gestational diabetes, dyspnoea, and pre-eclampsia.” (Melzer et al. Physical activity and pregnancy: cardiovascular adaptations, recommendations and pregnancy outcomes. Sports Med. 2010 Jun 1;40(6):493-507. 

Put another way, the female is not put together to be sedentary in pregnancy. It is only in recent decades that this is an option. Until the mid 20th Century, activities of daily living required physical fitness, and obesity was rare, along with sedentary behavior. In the last few decades, those who are knowledgeable about the interactions of pregnancy and exercise, and who have the experience of teaching movement to this population, have come to understand how to present activities that improve the factors that improve maternal and fetal outcomes.

Those who are extremely well-versed in the field all agree that cardiovascular (aerobic) fitness during the 6 – 12 month pre-pregnancy period may be the greatest pregnancy enhancement a woman can have. Why? Because endothelial function is greatly enhanced, oxidative stress is reduced, and vascularity is increased by aerobic fitness, and these capacities underly healthy implantation and placental development (see Research Updates 2001-2005, Winter 2005 and Winter 2004 and Update on Immune Function). Barring that, beginning early in pregnancy is helpful because placental development is still underway. Barring that, mild to moderate aerobic activity introduced by 25-30 weeks will produce cardiovascular enhancement by the time of labor. My caveat goes here, too.

All conditions mediated by inflammation are a problem in pregnancy. Physical fitness is a major preventive strategy for inflammation, and pregnancy does not stand in the way.



DTP Guest Blog – Renee Crichlow: REAC Fitness

In Part 4 of our continuing series on DTP’s offspring, meet Renee Crichlow, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer from Barbados, whose REAC Fitness business includes Mum-me 2 B Fitness Series (prenatal), After Baby Fitness Series  (postnatal) and 6 week Jumpstart Body Transformation Program (general female population). group

Renee (left) leads her moms-to-be in a well-rounded program that includes some cool moves in her aerobic dancing section!

The adventures of one of her students is featured in a recent series of articles in Barbados Today.

DTP:  When did you begin working with DTP?

Renee: I started studying in March 2012 and I completed the practicum in May 2012.

DTP:  Describe the focus or mission of your work.

Renee: I am a women’s fitness specialist, targeting all stages of a woman’s life cycle from adolescent, child bearing years, prenatal, postnatal to menopause. I design various exercise programmes to help women get into shape. As a trainer, friend and coach, I am committed to guiding, motivating and educating women to exceed their fitness goals and to permanently adopt healthy lifestyles.

feathered exerciseDTP: What do you most enjoy about your work?

Renee: The good feeling associated with knowing that I am helping women to positively change their lives through exercise.

DTP: What is the most important or interesting thing you have learned from working with moms, moms-to-be, or other women clients?

Renee: I have learned that we are connected and not separate from each other. Sharing our challenges and triumphs Jannelleenable each of us to grow and have a sense of belonging like a sisterhood. The baby and pregnancy stories always amaze me and I learn a lot considering I don’t have children of my own.  I am also fascinated by the fact that as the pregnant mummies bellies grow, they are still moving with lots of energy and I feed off of that energy.  I just love working with pregnant ladies and mothers.

DTP: What are your future plans for your program?

Renee: Starting in May, I will be adding an informational workshop to cover various topics and an outdoor stroller class.

DTP: What is the feedback you have had about your program?

Renee: They really enjoy the class and interaction with each other. Please see the testimonials below:

LatoyaSquatsLatoya Greaves, Patient of Dr. Thomas

I’m Latoya and I’ve been participating in the class for the past 4 months. It is very exciting, energizing and fun. During the work out, we participate in various stretches, breathing techniques, and even a little zumba session. I never thought exercising during pregnancy could be so much fun. The exercises are simple to do, so anyone who is pregnant and still wants to look well toned, loves to dance or just want to learn to what to expect during labour and what techniques can be used to help, this is the class for you. I can guarantee you, that after one workout with Renee, u will feel sexier than ever. Try it and you’ll see. I’ve already spoken to her regarding post-natal classes, that’s how excited I am.

Janalee Harris – Patient of Dr. Tracy Archer

Being part of the Mum-me 2 B Fitness Series is incredible! Whilst at the doctor, I was introduced to Renee and decided to join the program and never once regretted it. The exercises are wonderful, they help expecting mummies stay in shape, one thing I thought, was pregnant women had to take it easy and exercise very slow; that I realized was not true especially with the aerobics session.

We do various exercises: strengthening, breathing, relaxation, stretching, cardiovascular… when combined helps you stay in great shape. I feel healthy and overall better about myself and thank God for the opportunity to be able to exercise during pregnancy. I would encourage any woman who is pregnant to join the class, it’s a wonderful experience! A great program to follow when expecting and I am sure benefits will be achieved and goals will be reached in order to maintain a good weight throughout pregnancy

Toni Moore – Patient of  Dr. James Boyce

I joined the Mum-me 2 B class in my 20th week of pregnancy. I have found them to be very useful; not only in preparing me mentally and physically for welcoming my baby into this world but also in informing me of safe exercises that I can do on my own. Renee is very professional and makes the time to check-in on her preggers outside of class times: diet, doctor’s visits etc. I would recommend it to anyone; I would further recommend that you commence the classes earlier.

Contact info: Renee Crichlow (246) 242-2850, info@reacfitness.com

DTP Guest Blog – Cathy Moore, CNM: In the Belly of the Goddess

In The Belly of the GoddessCathy Moore CNM, is the founder of In the Belly of the Goddess in the Boston area. She earned her pre/postnatal fitness certification from Dancing thru Pregnancy® in 2006. She used much of what she learned to develop a series of classes in belly dance for pregnancy and birth. InTheBellyOfTheGoddess.com

DTP: Describe the focus or mission of your program.

Recognizing that Belly Dance has its origins as a Birth Dance

 we seek to restore it to its rightful place in this sacred process.

Cathy: My original aim was to teach belly dance to pregnant women as a tool of personal empowerment – both in the arenas of expressive creativity and for use in the labor and birth process.  My focus has evolved since I began the program.  I started with giving women what I felt was another “tool” to use to help them to cope with labor, and possibly to help them to achieve their goal of un-medicated birth, and so I taught just specific moves that I felt were useful for this purpose.  Over time, I added more aerobic movement, more “veil work” – (dancing with a silk veil), more “fun” exercises, and an end of class rest/shavasana period with either a guided meditation or affirmations.  Some of these changes that I made were a direct result of taking the DTP certification.In The Belly of the Goddess 2

DTP: What do you most enjoy about your work?

Cathy:   I love to get women into some jingly hip sashes, and get them laughing and enjoying dancing with each other.  I love to see a group come together and start bonding and exchanging info and experience.  And I love to hear how great they feel after a class – they really do shake out many of the aches and pains!

DTP: What is the most important thing you have learned from working with moms and moms-to-be?

Cathy: Both my clinical work as a practicing midwife, and though my belly dance business, I continue to learn how strong and capable women are.

DTP: What is your future outlook for your program?

Cathy: In my clinical practice with the Brigham & Women’s Midwifery Group, many of the women we care for are socio-economically disadvantaged.  I am hoping to bring my program to these women.  Recently, I have been offering one-time mini classes in Centering Pregnancy groups, and they are always well received.

This is the second in a series of articles about the programs that have been built by individuals who have been through DTP’s pre/postnatal fitness instructor training programs. Previous entries in this series: https://dancingthrupregnancy.wordpress.com/2012/10/

DTP Guest Blog – Erika Boom: Belly-n-Kicks™

Erika Boom is the founder and president of the Belly-n-Kicks™ (B-n-K™) program, based in Miami FL. She is an ACE certified personal trainer as well as a DTP® certified pre/postnatal fitness trainer. Erika – an accomplished athlete – has been actively involved in the fitness industry helping hundreds of women for more than 10 years. Recently, Erika became a mother, gaining first-hand experience with her own B-n-K™ program!
Website: www.belly-n-kicks.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Belly-n-Kicks/

DTP: Describe the focus or mission of your work.

Erika: Belly-n-Kicks ™ (“B-n-K™”) is an individualized exercise training program for pregnant and postpartum women. It incorporates elements of strength training, isometrics, core work, and stretching.

DTP: What do you most enjoy about your work?

Erika: What I most enjoy about my work is that we are empowering women in the most vulnerable point in their life. I also love the fact that the health benefits of exercise are multiplied by two.

DTP: What is the most important thing you have learned from working with moms and moms-to-be?

Erika: Our bodies are perfect machines and we are strong human beings capable of multitasking. I started doing a bulletin to nominate some “femmes extraordinaire,” and I could fit in ALL of my clients!

DTP: What is your future outlook for your program?

Erika: I am in the process of writing and reviewing the B-n-K™ Training Manual. I am also moving in the direction of franchising the B-n-K™ Methodology.

What clients say about this program:

“Belly-n-Kicks™ was recommended by my OBGYN while I was pregnant with twins. I kept my weight gain under control and I bounced back in shape fast. My twins will turn three this year, and I am in amazing shape and leaner than I have ever been before.” – L.L.

“Working out with Belly-n-kicks™ during my pregnancy kept me feeling strong, healthy and energized all the way to the end. Erika’s knowledge and guidance was very important in having a healthy pregnancy. She focused on a safe exercise routine that promoted endurance for the birth process and overall fitness. My recovery after birth was extremely fast. I wouldn’t go through a pregnancy without her!” – C. S.

Dancing Thru Pregnancy 33; Ann 66

September is a big month on my calendar. It signals my birthday (1946), the birth of DTP (1979), the incorporation of DTP®, Inc (1982), and the month I met my husband (1983). All of this would be cause for celebration if it weren’t also the start of the semester at Yale and the arrival of 150+ individuals whose names I really want to learn! Consequently, here we are in October and I am just getting around to my ruminations on the fact that this year DTP is half my age.

Another milestone has me thinking a lot about this fact. This is the year I can apply for my full social security benefits yet continue working. The beauty of this plan is that I can start to work less!! Not that I will for a while, but reality is setting in. I have spent a significant portion of the last half my life preparing women physically for birth and recovery, educating movement teachers to do so as well, and researching, writing and speaking about the impact of physical fitness on maternal and fetal outcomes.

This has me thinking about my professional offspring. What I want to celebrate here on this blog are the pre/postnatal health and fitness professionals whose lives have intersected with mine. Individuals who have taken off from the training they received under our auspices and moved out into women’s health fitness in meaningful ways. So, in weeks to come, we will be featuring DTP “offspring” – discussing their evolution and current work. We have already prepared several posts and would like to hear from any health care or fitness professionals who would like to be included in our series. The only requirement is that you successfully participated in our education program at some point since 1984 when we began training teachers.

On the personal level, I have reaped many benefits from interactions with the millions of women who take classes, thousands of educators we trained, faculty members, research associates, and interns with the program. You have all enriched my life immeasurably and I celebrate you all!

To start this series, I am posting this very recent photograph of myself [left] with our current intern, Shannon [right], and one of our newest babies, Jack. The photo – taken by Jack’s mom, Angelica – provides a glimpse into the happiness that this program brings into my life. There are so many benefits that a healthy, active pregnancy provides to the mother and baby. This photo makes manifest the joy in the lives of those of us who work with the pre/postnatal population.

It is likely that Shannon is the last of the young women that I will personally take under my wing. I am so grateful to all of our college interns who have spent time here. But, it’s time for me to move into the next phase of my life. More writing, less teaching and – definitely – more time spent in my neglected gardens.

In a couple of weeks I will travel to Singapore to present a session on relief of the deep external rotators of the ilio-femoral joint at the IADMS dance medicine conference. This is one of the subjects in which my work as a ballet dancer, and now teacher, and my work in pregnancy fitness intersect in a meaningful way. From both fields I have learned a great deal about alleviating the biomechanical stresses that afflict both dancers and moms-to-be.

It is a great honor to work with moms-to-be and new moms. Over the next few weeks this spot will feature some of DTP’s “offspring” and their work. What a reward for me! Thank you all.

Birth of Pregnancy Exercise: Evolution of DTP

Sometimes it is fun to look back at the long road to the present! Recently, I was interviewed by our local online media outlet (the Branford CT Patch) and was really thrilled with the resulting story. It focused on the 30 year road of DTP and I thought you might find it interesting.

Here is the link to the story and the subtitle:


What started as a “fledgling experiment” has become one Branford woman’s life work.

Thank you for taking a look!

Still looking for new ways to develop core strength & coordination!

That's it...try alternating this shape with the previous one...breathe out here!