Choreographer Eileen McClory: It was easy to hop on a Zoom call with a breastfeeding baby while still in my pyjama bottoms

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: dancer, choreographer and Belfast International Arts Festival artist-in-residence, Eileen McClory

Gail Bell

Up and at it – what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

Before I had my daughter, it was a case of 'Get up, have breakfast, check emails and get straight out to work'. Now it's a delightful mix of chasing my daughter around the house to put a nappy on while trying to convince her to eat anything other than strawberries, while trying to get myself ready. Mayhem.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

Usefully, granola, fruit, yoghurt and coffee, but with my second baby arriving soon, I've had to tear myself away from the chocolate Hobnobs.


When I'm at home, it's usually scrambled egg, avocado and toast. If I'm out and about, lunch could be a sandwich or salad and some sneaky crisps.

Evening meal?

I love cooking so it's usually a pasta dish, chilli, roasted veg or a new creation in a pot full of veggies and stuff - the only problem is, I never remember how I make these random dishes, so they are usually a delicious 'one-off'.


Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

Yes, in the first lockdown I was seven months pregnant with my daughter, Ayala, and I was kind of grateful to stop everything as all work went online. Although, I have to say, teaching a dance class or trying to choreograph a new work online has its challenges and can be mentally draining. On the other hand, I carried on working after I had Ayala and it was easy to hop on a Zoom call with a breastfeeding baby while still in my pyjama bottoms. It was so much less hassle than having to leave the house, but nothing beats the energy of a live rehearsal room.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

I love a good brunch at the weekend - home-made pancakes or French toast with fruit, yoghurt, bacon... it breaks up a Saturday before 'park' time. I got mad into making scones, so we'd have a wee cream tea in the afternoon.


Weekend treat?

Over lockdown we started getting a takeaway on a Friday as a wee treat, although the 'wee treat' is still going... We're trying to cut that habit down now. My favourite is Thai, but my husband loves his pizza.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

Just basically trying to stay active in any way – walking, swimming (when pools re-opened) yoga and pilates. When Ayala isn't climbing on top of me, even cleaning and tidying can cleanse my brain.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

I would usually walk the dog with the baby, but, at the moment I have a lot of pregnancy pelvic pain, so walking is out for me.


How do you relax?

Mainly chilling with the hubby, watching Netflix.


Teetotal or tipple?

Tipple. Did somebody say Margarita? (Obviously, not when I'm not pregnant...)


What book are you currently reading?

I'm not a great reader - I've dyslexia - so when I'm working and tired, reading for pleasure is hard work, but on holidays I do love a good novel by the pool.


Best Netflix?

I'm obsessed with Schitt's Creek. It was my fave show for years. Recently, I'm all about Pose.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

That I'm no good at DIY...


On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

I was about a seven, getting better, though.


What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

Socialising and going to live theatre, but mainly I was missing my husband Gil's family who live in England - we missed out a lot when Ayala was born in lockdown.


Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

We, like most people, will be planning a big family holiday abroad - either Spain or Portugal, most likely.


Biggest gripe?

'The last minute' - I used to thrive in that space, adrenaline would kick in and I'd get the job done, but since becoming a mum, I feel like I'm always living in the 'last minute', no matter how much I organise. Oh, and pregnancy cellulite - what is that about?


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

I think it's mainly to live more in the moment. I also appreciate how lucky I am to have such a brilliant, supportive family. I wouldn't be able to juggle work and mom life without their support.


Any new skills or hobbies?

Becoming a mum has been all-consuming - I've learned plenty of new skills, mainly how to do things with one hand and the masterful art of distraction.


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

I think how the conversation has shifted on mental health and mindfulness is great - I hope this persists. I'm also loving the conversation about a four-day work week, but I don't know how that would ever work in the arts or for freelancers. I would like anything, though, that enables me to spend more time with the family.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

Yeah, I guess it's just made me appreciate all aspects of life and put measures in place to stay fit and healthy so it can be a long one.

Eileen McClory has choreographed Bind, a new dance/poetry/music film inspired by and filmed in the Robinson Library, Armagh. It premieres on November 25 as part of the Georgian Festival, Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre, Armagh.

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