This Philly choreographer wants to help new moms dance again

Moms Make Art is choreographer Zornitsa Stoyanova’s attempt to show that dancers don’t have to stop creating after they give birth.

Zornitsa Stoyanova

After giving birth to her son, dancer and choreographer Zornitsa Stoyanova was dismayed to realize that most depictions and discussions of motherhood tended to hew to one of two equally unrealistic extremes.

“It’s either made into something mysterious and amazing — magical is a word that is always used,” she says. “Or it’s all about dealing with depression. There’s never a conversation about sustainability or about who these mothers are, what they do and how important they are as humans.”

Two and a half years later, Stoyanova is doing her part to remedy that. Following a brief post-partum hiatus from performance, she returned to the stage earlier this year with a new piece entitled “Explicit Female.” Looking beyond her own work, she also launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a residency program called Moms Make Art, which will award 40 hours of rehearsal time this fall to a performer and new mother from Philadelphia.

The residency is being undertaken in partnership with Mascher Space Co-op and Fidget, both independent dance and performance spaces in Fishtown. The funding is open to mothers of young children (at least one of whom is too young for school) and will provide 40 hours of rehearsal time at one of the two spaces and an accompanying child care stipend, mentorship by “professional artist moms” from the communities based around the two spaces, and the possibility of an informal showing of the work. Deadline for applications is currently set at June 22 though Stoyanova suggests that she’s willing to work with applicants who need more time.

Born in Bulgaria and based in Philadelphia for the past decade, Stoyanova finds herself in a unique position as an artist — one where she has time to give back to the community, since she’s in the midst of a funded year-long residency at Fidget Space, in addition to being married to a husband willing and able to financially support her practice.

“The Moms Make Art residency emerged from this feeling that I wanted the voice of other mothers to be heard,” Stoyanova explains. “I’m in an age group where I know a lot of women who have recently become mothers, and a majority of them aren’t making work since they had kids. The question becomes, ‘Why is that, and how can there be a facilitation of continuing their work?’ I recognize that I, at the moment, am in a really privileged situation and extremely grateful for that, so how can I use that privileged situation to facilitate a change in our tiny little Philadelphia community?”

Immediately following the birth of her son, Stoyanova lost interest in performing. “There was an energetic impossibility to it,” she recalls. “I was very sleep-deprived and my body wasn’t what it used to be — it still isn’t and will never be what it used to be.”

But her interest slowly revived. In her earlier work she had used Mylar, the reflective plastic sheets typically used for emergency blankets and metallic balloons, as set decoration. After her son’s birth she began creating photographs with the material, mirroring images that combined Mylar and parts of her body to create “these completely alien forms, bipedal monsters that somehow had very feminine or very masculine feels to them.”

Her excitement over those images eventually inspired “Explicit Female,” which she’ll reprise at this fall’s Fringe Festival. The provocatively-titled piece very much reflects (literally and figuratively) the type of work she hopes to see emerge from Moms Make Art.

“There’s a divide in society and art,” she says.

“Once you become a mother you’re no longer supposed to be doing great art, or really anything, because now you have a child. That’s the same thought process that a lot of mothers in the corporate world are dealing with. Becoming a mother taught me that there’s no time to censor yourself. You just have to go full out, however uncomfortable you may be. Otherwise, why do it?”

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