I’m very excited to introduce Laura Purkiss – a soloist ballet dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, whom I’m honoured to feature, as this weeks Future Female. Can you imagine being a ballet dancer and a mother? It’s certainly not the norm in the world of ballet. Laura, also known as Laura Tye, mother of two is pushing through the glass ceiling, making it possible to have both. Discover the story of a Laura Purkiss, the working ballerina, watch the trailer to the documentary Laura has made called ‘Balance’. A portrait of a woman juggling the difficulties of everyday life as a ballet dancer and mother.
FF: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
LT: I am 36 years old, married with two daughters. I work full time as a professional ballet dancer and have been in my career for the past 18 years.
FF: Why did you become a ballet dancer?
LT: My first ballet class was at about the age of 3 or 4. I hated it! Told my mum that I would never go back. A few years passed and my love of spinning around to music lead me back to the local ballet school. This time I continued and this time I loved it! As others started to drop out I found I had a natural ability and was encouraged by my teacher to audition for the Royal Ballet School. I spent 2 years at The Royal Ballet upper school and then at age 18 I was offered a job at Birmingham Royal Ballet.
FF: What does Future Female mean to you?
LT: My parents bought me up being able to do things for myself. Ive always watched my Dad fix and build things and find it really interesting. So much so that I now manage to find faults in the majority of plumbers work! Couple this with the fact that I’m in a “girly” job and I think I have got something to prove and stereotypes to break.
Mum and Dad made sure my brother and I were supported in anything we wanted to do. It wasn’t only my brother that got to ride a motorbike and much to my brothers dislike I wasn’t the only one to take ballet lessons.
Being a future female is to see your ability to do and achieve anything. Regardless of sex race or religion.
FF: Is Your creative process easy to maintain with your family commitments?
LT: My job is difficult with a family, theres no way to sugar coat that! We work long and antisocial hours and tour the country and overseas throughout the year. However… the benefits outweigh the negatives. My family are extremely proud of me and my children love that I’m a ballerina.
FF: What do you love about your job? And what are the challenges?
LT: The best part of my job is staying fit and working with great people. Ive made some wonderful friends through the years and the theatre is a great place to bring my children. Its a very unique environment.
The challenge is staying fit enough to be at the top of your game. Every injury as you get older becomes that little bit harder to recover from. I had two c-sections and I have had to work really hard to get back to work. At times it did feel like it was impossible.
FF: Can you tell us a about a project that is inspiring you at the moment?
LT: A project that is inspiring me at the moment is a new BFI film that my husband is currently composing the sound track for. The film follows the story of a son’s quest to find out answers about his late mother who died when he was young. I think it will be a beautiful film. My husband also composed the music for a short documentary about my life as a working mum. ‘Balancé’ shows the struggle of parenting and working. I do both while never knowing if I’ve made the right decision! ‘Balancé’ is currently showing at film festivals across the country and has already won some awards which I am thrilled about.
FF: There is a shift in how and where women work, was it a natural progression to maintain your career when you decided to have a family?
LT: I returned to work after children because financially, I needed to. I wanted to teach my children that if you want something you need to work for it. I took 8 months off after the births. I couldn’t really take any longer due to the nature of the career. I needed to get back into shape asap as the life span of a dancer is very short.
I also wanted to prove to other dancers and the ballet world that you can have a family and continue with your career. Ballet companies don’t tend to have many mothers still performing. However there are quite a few Dad’s. I think starting a family isn’t really encouraged and pregnancy seems to go against everything that a female ballet dancer is aiming for. I hope I’ve changed at least one persons mind!
FF: If there was one thing you would change about your life as a woman, what would it be?
LT: My life as a woman is great. I wouldn’t change it. But I would love to see equality for women in my lifetime.
FF: Are there key messages you are passing on to your children when it comes to gender equality? How important do you think it is to change your story around gender?
LT: I try to encourage my girls to make friends with boys and girls and offer activities that in the past have been geared towards the one sex. The same with toys and clothes, I let them know that everything is for girls and boys. They know that a person has the ability and the right to be and do what they dream of and that we never judge anyone. Saying all this… they are extremely girly! Daisy’s favourite colour is blue though, can I take that as a tiny win?
FF: What are you reading at the moment?
LT: Its difficult to find the time to read for pleasure. I mostly find myself reading item descriptions on eBay and washing instructions on labels!
FF: How would you describe your style?
LT: My fashion style is in limbo. Im at that stage where I’m still trying to pull off the clothes I wore in my twenties. Sometimes I get home from work in pain because my skinny jeans just don’t fit how they used to. I need a total makeover. The time has come to say goodbye Topshop and head to M&S.
FF: I am so grateful to a wonderful man called Nigel, who recently tiled my kitchen. He happened to tell me about his niece, who had made a film about ballet and motherhood. My Future Female radar went up, twitter was consulted and there I found Laura Purkiss soloist for the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Laura Tye mother of two. Thank you so much Laura for being part of our Future Female series. I hope you all agree the insight into the world of a soloist ballet dancer while being a mother of two is challenging, rare, remarkable and truly inspiring. And how exciting that the future female can be both.