Tanya Howard has been with the National Ballet of Canada for over 18 years and in the last few of those, she’s consciously decided to escape the need to find balance after having her children, Lia, 8, and Benjamin, 5. “That word feels stressful to me. For example, the whole idea that kids have to eat by 6pm at home… In our family, my husband will quite often bring dinner with the kids to the green room before a show and then go back home before my performance. It’s not conventional and it’s not always a balanced meal, but who cares. It works for us because we’re together.” Her children are gifted with seeing the world through their mom’s lens which means leaning in her own way: Bringing them on tour with her when their schedule allows it, witnessing and learning from her performance highs and lows and of course, watching their mom shine on and off the stage.
“I enjoyed taking 6 months with my kids, then I felt good and strong to start training again. My husband would bring the babies to my work so I could breastfeed. I tried hard not to get caught up in the mental game of worrying about all those lost hours in the studio. I tried to remember ballet is what my body knows and sure enough, my body remembered those shapes and most of all, I just needed to pack my patience because I knew that I all the movements would come back with time.
I never really struggled with switching roles when I became a mother. My whole life has been spent playing different characters. We often rehearse up to 4 different ballets at a time so switching between roles is a natural part of my day. My career has given me a muscle memory that switches the flip to be on for work and once I walk through the front door of my house, it goes off.
What I do struggle with now is when I hear dancers say ‘I have to dance, it’s who I am’. I truly love ballet but it’s not who I am…it’s what I do. I happen to enjoy it immensely, but I strive to be more too. Sometimes, ballet can have that really exclusive perfectionist reputation where you have to be in the studio for 10000 hours to achieve your goal and I don’t’ want to be perceived that way. I see my work as storytelling that everyone can feel and enjoy and I also cultivate my life as a kind and compassionate mom, wife, friend and neighbour. I think it’s possible to be creative without being so singularly focused on it.
I’m the first to admit that being a dancer is quite self-involved, so not having the time to spend on myself was a real adjustment for me when I had Lia. I’m much more organized now that I have so much to do and motherhood has even changed how I dance and move. It’s been more beneficial for me when trying new technical elements. There’s no more hesitation, I jump into every challenge and that’s definitely because of my kids. I don’t have time to dip my toe in first and feel it out and they’ve gifted me with this bravado.
I have been known to say having kids is like being in therapy 24/7. I really want them to be amazing people and to do that, I have deal with all my quirks and insecurities like hanging out with someone you don’t know on a playdate for two hours. I remember we went to a birthday party and my daughter and I rang the doorbell and no one answered. She panicked and asked, ‘What if they didn’t invite me?” I wanted to flee at that moment with her because I was feeling uncomfortable too but instead, it made me re-evaluate the situation and say ‘no, don’t’ be silly.’ Then we both got over it and had a great afternoon. Constantly being forced to make better decisions and leading by example is the hardest thing but you have to keep doing it.
A lot of my tenacity has come from the ballet. Handling disappointment is a skill I’ve learned after being in the ballet for over 18 years. It’s incredibly disappointing and hard to get up and go to work and be the vessel for a production when you wanted a bigger role. Picking yourself up after disappointment and realizing it’s not the end of the world when it happens is what I bring to the kids. I tell them if you do your best, that should make you happy because you cannot control what happens around you. I believe in a little bit of sulking time and then onward because that just builds character.
However, I do cherish being a part of a flock mentality too. The people I work with have become my best friends; we spend so much time together and I feel a genuine connection in my ballet company. I have clocked so many hours in this group mentality in the studio that it has truly become an instinct in my family to solve our problems together as well. Whatever it is we’re facing, we have an understanding that we cannot make this work if one of us is not on board.”
Must-Haves & Mementos
“It’s my dream to go to Japan. A friend brought this kimono back for me and I wear it all the time. I love the feeling of flowing fabric, even when I’m just wearing jeans or leggings with it. I swear I was an angel fish in a past life.”
“During a rehearsal for one of my performances, there was a sketch artist in the studio and we didn’t even realize they were there. I got to keep one and it looks like a bunch of scribbles but I’m completely aware of the exact moment it was made while practicing a pas de deux.”
One of many point shoes that’s on standby for her work day. “When I moved to Canada from South Africa over 20 years ago, I brought two black tutus with me. I still have them even though they’re completely falling apart. I arrived with so much intensity but the kids have taken that edge off. I feel like I enjoy my work even more now.”
Her beauty routine when she’s not a stage completes a look that’s naturally on point for every day. From top: Physician’s Formula Bronzer to fake a kiss of summer all year long; Arbonne RE9 Corrective Eye Cream (“This was an investment buy so I treasure it.”); and MAC InstaCurl Lash Mascara with an adjustable tip that curves or straightens.
“The engraved necklace has the exact co-ordinates of where my husband and I first kissed. (It’s funny that I’m so into keeping memories because dance is so fleeting). The rest is from Stella & Dot. I just love gold accents to wear and to decorate with. I have hints of gold all over the house.”
“I found a how-to video over a year ago and now i crochet obsessively. I have projects at work and at home and everything I need is in one basket or bag so I can get to it quickly. I don’t know why I can’t just sit down and chill. I find crocheting lets me relax by being focused on one thing. I craft a lot, especially since having the kids. We love doing projects together.”