Ballet took her all over the world. Now Rachael McLaren is back in Winnipeg — and finally home
McLaren reflects on her incredible dance career and life as a new mother
With stages closed and studios shuttered, the dance world has been hit hard by the pandemic. This time has also created space for a conversation about the way tradition and narrow standards have obscured practices of racism. This story is part of a CBC Arts: Exhibitionists episode focused on the dance world during the pandemic and looking forward, streaming now on CBC Gem.
Success in the arts very rarely comes without some degree of sacrifice. Whether it is the loss of time, money, relationships or self, the artistic process can at times be all-consuming and lonely.
Contemporary ballet dancer Rachael McLaren experienced this while performing in countless venues worldwide, but she recently decided to leave the stage behind and return to her hometown of Winnipeg to take on a challenge that no amount of training could prepare her for: motherhood.
As a teen, her goal was to become a company dancer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. She joined the school's recreational division but was denied a spot in the professional program after auditioning and simply being told she wasn't the right "fit." As one of the recreational division's few Black students, she was left to speculate about what that meant.
Prejudice within the institution of ballet is common. The dance form has been called out by prominent ballet dancer Misty Copeland for its coded language around Black hair and body types, its perpetuation of unhealthy beauty myths and even its continued use of blackface. In an emotional (and since-deleted) post on Instagram this summer, Nicholas Rose accused the National Ballet of Canada of anti-Black racism. He has since left the company.
Instead of letting prejudice deny her aspirations, McLaren made a bold decision. She left her life in Winnipeg and chased her dream all the way to New York, ultimately landing at one of the most prestigious dance institutions in the world: the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
In this inspiring video by Ian Bawa and Quan Luong, watch as a pregnant McLaren joyfully dances around the streets of Winnipeg reflecting on a meaningful career and reconnecting with herself as a mother.
Like that initial decision to leave home, the choice to come back and start a family is a tough one for a female dancer to make. "One of the greatest challenges for me was to remember who I was and remember what my life was before I became a mommy and a wife and a housekeeper," says McLaren. "Dance was the entry point for me to remember who I was."
Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionist's episode on the dance world during the pandemic and looking forward, now on CBC Gem.