Dance teacher Elena Alessandra Zo is getting ready for her weekly class in Asti, a small city in northwestern Italy.
With her long hair pulled back, Zo puts her ballet shoes on and carefully straps her daughter Dorotea to her chest with a fabric wrap.
“Baby-wearing dance” is an offshoot of the baby-wearing practice: it involves keeping a child close to an adult’s body (generally a parent or a caregiver) with the help of a baby carrier.
Zo, who started to dance at the age of five and has been teaching it for 12 years, explains what the practice involves.
“Baby-wearing dance means dancing while carrying one’s own child in an ergonomic fashion. One can use not only wraps but also mei tai (a type of baby carrier) or ergonomic pouches. They’re all supports that allow mothers to dance safely”, she says.
As the mothers practice their dance moves, their children are gently rocked and often fall asleep.
Zo’s class—appropriately named “Cuore a Cuore” (“Heart to Heart” in English)—is one of several that have recently sprung up in Italy. They also exist around the world, from the United States to Romania, India and Australia.
Its fans say its success is down to the special bond it helps develop between mother and baby.
Zo says that during her class she watches mothers experiencing a whole range of raw feelings.
“I see them getting emotional, I see them passionate, I see them radiant. I see them experience a great variety of emotions. They themselves are amazed,” she says.
Antonella Gennatiempo is a psychologist and founder of “Scuola del Portare” (School of Carrying).
Founded in 2006, “Scuola del Portare” is one of Italy’s first schools for baby-wearing consultants.
Gennatiempo says baby-wearing dance has unique benefits for both mother and baby:
“Baby-wearing dance allows her (the mother) to get together with other mothers who share the same needs. But above all, through the evocative power of music and dance, the mother produces a series of hormones that are essential to her well-being, such as oxytocin. (The hormones) are then transmitted to her child. A happy mother who’s wearing her child and who’s dancing in a state of well-being passes this all to her own baby,” she says.
Heart to Heart’s classes are twofold: they combine body expression with some modern dance moves.
Other variations of baby-wearing dance around the world include jazz, oriental, Latin-American and belly dancing, to name just a few.
But Zo warns the dance moves need to be chosen carefully for the safety of mother and child. Baby-wearing dance shouldn’t include moves such as jumps and pirouettes that could make mothers dizzy and cause them to fall over.
She says a physiotherapist or obstetrician should approve the dance moves to make sure they are compatible with the mother’s post-birth recovery.
Many mothers who attend Zo’s class already practice baby-wearing.
Student Egle Chiesa credits baby-wearing dance for allowing her to strengthen her bond with her daughter Giada who was born premature.
“Dance is a passion of mine and sharing it with my daughter is beautiful, something I’ve always wanted to do,” she says.
Another student, Sonia Profita, explains how baby-wearing dance affects her:
“I feel his heart beat, he feels my heart beat. I’m moved every time I feel him so close, every time I put him inside (the wrap). It’s incredible that no matter what discomfort the baby has he calms down once he’s inside (the pouch)”, she says.
Clinical psychologist Rita Caporali says there is science to back up the physical and psychological benefits of baby-wearing dance:
“We can find benefits for baby-wearing dance also on a hormonal level. We know that by practicing sport, by moving, higher levels of serotonin are produced and serotonin is defined as the hormone of well-being. So through baby-wearing dance a mother’s happiness is passed on to her child, is transferred to her baby. We can assume that through baby-wearing dance a child will develop a sense of well-being and will likely be a calmer baby, a child who will cry less,” she says.
By the end of Zo’s class most babies are asleep and the moms look so relaxed they might be ready for a nap when they get home too.