The Grateful Dead, Mommy Guilt, and Do Overs: Interview with Nichole Hannah


I’ve decided to try something different with this interview. Actually Nichole gave me the idea. Instead of having her fill out a questionnaire, I did a phone interview with her. So, this interview will be more conversational in style instead of an academic writing. I like how it turned out, it feels more alive to me.

Nichole instructed my first class in the Tribal Fusion style. After my first teacher moved to New York, I began searching for a new teacher and since going to that first BDSS show in 2005 and being smitten by Rachel Brice, I knew that was the direction I wanted to go.

ASIDE (from the days when I considered myself an artist and not a dancer) Being a graphic design student in college, we had a plethora of stock photography catalogs laying around. I use to gather interesting photos and tape them to my bedroom wall in a collage of awesome inspiration. When I got home that night from having my brain exploded by Rachel Brice, I crashed into my bed and looked up at my wall and Rachel Brice was staring back at me. She was the only dancer image I had collected. Brain exploded again.

I found Nichole’s class 45 minutes away at the local gym. Thankfully, I had just landed an internship 5 minutes away from said gym. Score! The packed out class began with a killer warm up that had my legs shaking but I was hooked. I attribute that class with helping me to finally nail the regal posture and isolation that defines a tribal fusion dancer. (Yes, I read the interview, I know Nichole doesn’t consider herself fusion.) Speaking in photographic memory terms, the huge gorgeous lotus tattoo on her back was the memory image that was burned into my brain from that class. Sadly the internship lasted only 6 months and I was unable to make the trek regularly.

Five years later for my 30th birthday, I decided I wanted to get a tattoo and I knew exactly who I wanted to do it, the same artist that did Nichole’s lotus tattoo, her husband Brandon Hannah. See the interview I did with Brandon while I was getting my tattoo. Nichole ended up popping in during my first session and I got a graphic design and video gig out it. I began taking private lessons with her in exchange for design work and eventually joined her student troupe. Now I am proud to call this fierce, creative woman my friend and teacher.

Seven things you may or may not know about Nichole.

  1. She use to travel the country and live in a school bus.
  2. She followed the grateful dead around the country before transitioning into working Renaissance Fairs.
  3. She has studied and performed belly dance for 20 years and is cofounder and lead choreographer of Panty Raid burlesque. “At the time we started it (Panty Raid), it was a relatively a new thing. It was pre myspace, youtube and we were kinda a big deal and I am pretty proud of that, says Nichole.”
  4. She has been with her husband for 20 years.
  5. “Just about any food is my favorite food. I love fried chicken, can’t eat it anymore unless I make it myself. I am gluten free. I am always on some form of a detox.”
  6. She has backyard chickens.
  7. “I don’t consider myself an artist and I have low self esteem.”

Do you find one particular detox useful or do you switch them up?

I tried all sorts of things and now I am under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor. I am currently on a liver detox. It’s no alchohol, no processed food, I can only eat foods in their natural state. I only eat unrefined cold pressed oils, no sugar, no honey or maple syrup. Very little fruit.

 Was Aiden your first pregnancy?

No he was not, he was the first child I carried to term and delivered. He was planned.

 Did you breastfeed?

I breastfeed him. He never had a bottle. I chose to because it’s better for the baby. Also at the time I looked at it as free baby food. Why would I buy formula when I produced it myself. Breastfeeding was difficult. At first, he and I took to it right away, but when my milk came in, it got really interesting. It took us 24 hours and then we were good. For me, it was like I was carrying two watermelons on my chest. It was painful and emotional. It was difficult for a tiny child to latch on. When I was pregnant, I am pretty sure my breast outgrew my belly. I was not happy about it?

 Did you meet with a lactation coach?

I had one girlfriend that I would ask questions of, she did the best she could, but she in no way raised her children in the same mindset that I wanted to raise Aiden. It felt a lot like I was on my own. I did things because I felt like they were the best way for us. I still do things that are against the grain and different from what society deems reasonable or logical.

 Did you have a natural child birth?

I tried. I wanted to do natural but I didn’t have the advice of anyone to follow. I was the first of my friends to have a baby. I had a midwife but she was based out of a hospital. I would do things different if I could do it over again. My water broke and then labor did not begin, so they talked me into inducing with synthetic progesterone. Once you induce with progesterone your body’s natural ability to deal with the pain goes out the window. I labored with progesterone, hard labor for 12 hours. The strength to go so far, came from my husband. By the time the 3rd contraction hit, I looked him in the eye and said I can’t do this. He cheered me on for those 12 hours until he was exhausted and didn’t know what else to do. We finally gave in and took the epidural and then took a nap. We woke up two hours later and started pushing. After 12 hours of hard labor it went from I think I might be having a contraction to YES I AM in five minutes. Generally, when you labor naturally your contractions start easy and come in waves and increase in intensity and then you push a baby out. Once progesterone gets in the mix, you go straight into hard labor.

So, what would you do different?

I would do it at home or a birth center.

Did they take your baby away right away?

They left him with me. As soon as he came out, before they cut the cord, he had latched on and was nursing. I could feel him coming out of me. The cocktail of hormones that hits you when the baby comes thru the birth canal is better than anything they could give you.

Do you remember the week after?

Yes, it was a hard, scary week because now I was responsible for keeping this being alive. We left the hospital early because we wanted out of there. We spent one night and then came home. We stayed up all night watching the baby breath because we were petrified he would stop. We were so scared that we cried and then laughed that we were crying. After my fifth phone call to my midwife, she said something that really hit home,“You and your husband are intelligent people and there are a lot of less intelligent people in this world that manage to keep their babies alive.” But yeah, it was a week of bliss.

Did you stop working after the baby was born?

Prior to giving birth, I managed a coffee shop for 7 years. I left that job two months before I delivered Aiden. I had two months of kinda figuring out my husband’s business. Once I had the baby, I was still helping him out. It didn’t even require and hour a day.

Did you discover any ways to make pregnancy more comfortable?

For me, the best thing was to take everything off my plate. I put a hold on performing and teaching. The only thing I was doing was managing the coffee shop. Prior to getting pregnant, I had one performance that I had agreed to do. It was before I was telling everyone I was pregnant. I had made a costume and I barely fit into it. I made it thru that and said okay I am done. I didn’t go back to dancing till Aiden was six months old. It felt like I just jumped back into dance. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t do everything but it didn’t take long to get back at it. I didn’t have Aiden till I was 36.

Was your life after baby different that what you had anticipated?

It definitely was different than what I had daydreamed about. I daydreamed that I would have this playpen beside me and he would be content and I would be sewing and doing my thing and we would do it together…. Yeah, no it didn’t go that way. Taking care of a baby is a full time job! And you are on their time schedule. Trying to get to meetings and places on time was a little more difficult. I had to plan ahead.

Did you have any help with child care in the beginning?

No, just me and my husband, that was it. We don’t have any family in town. I don’t think Aiden had a babysitter until he was two and a half. I didn’t leave him alone with anybody. He went everywhere with us.

Did you taking any classes while pregnant?

No, I left plenty of time for napping.

What was your favorite part of being pregnant?

Just the wonder of what was going on. Just feeling that little human being inside was pretty miraculous. Feeling him moving around. I was about five months when I started feeling him. Maybe it was sooner but at five months, I was like yeah this is for sure. I only have one pregnancy to compare it to. Im sure the second one is different because you already know what is going on.

What kinda dance do you practice?

I consider it to be Tribal Belly Dance. I don’t consider it fusion because I don’t study other dance styles. I’ve always loved to dance. When I started doing Renaissance Festivals, I met two women who were belly dancers and who graciously invited me to join them at their rehearsals. They would teach me while they were practicing. One of the dancers I lost contact with and I don’t think she dances anymore. The other one became my teacher and troupe leader. Her name is Ziah Ali of Awalim Dance company.

During labor did you use your belly dance at all?

Not during my labor,  but when I was pushing him out it was very helpful. My midwife kept saying, “I don’t know what your are doing, but keep doing it”. I was able to actually use my upper abs and then bare down. I could use my lower abs and then scooch him down the canal like that.

Did you study any birth methods?

I did not. I was a little naïve and I thought well I’ve got a midwife, she will help me thru it. It wasn’t like that at all. The midwife I had, would come in the room and check on me and then leave and I guess be sitting in a room watching monitors. I was hooked up to all kinds of things, it was ridiculous. I would recommend that you study some coping methods.

What was your morning routine like before, during, and after becoming a mother?

My morning routine before the child varied. If I had to go to work, I’d pretty much get up, shower, and drive to work at 6:30 in the morning. At work I had to open the shop and brew the coffee. During the pregnancy, it was still the same up until the end. I allowed myself an 8oz cup of coffee a day. I would sleep until the last minute. Most of my pregnancy, I would wake up thinking when could I nap next. As soon as my eyes opened I was already planning my nap. I was extremely nauseous for the first four months. I never actually got sick but it was pretty strong in me. And it’s a naturally tendancy of mine to sleep when I don’t feel well. I could sleep twelve hours a day. After the baby, I gave birth to a child that likes to sleep too. Our morning routine is very relaxed. We work for ourselves. We work a second shift lifestyle. Our two buisnesses don’t start until 2 pm. We wake, up drink coffee, sit on porch, hang out with chickens, we eat breakfast together. It is pretty ideal. I love it. Sometimes, I must admit, and these are horrible words, but sometimes I feel a tiny bit of shame about our routine because it’s not the typical 9 to 5 schedule. That’s just not the life that I ever wanted to lead. Sometimes I wonder how could I make my routine different, maybe I could get more done in a day. Who knows.

Do you experience Mommy guilt?

Absolutely, especially when Aiden was first born, I feel a little bit better about it now. When he was 2 to 5, I had anxiety whenever I would have to go to play dates where there were other mothers and children. I had anxiety about correcting my child or his behavior. I was really unsure about my parenting skills and what other people where going to think. We live in a judgemental world and everyone thinks they know better than you. Im guilty of it myself. I’m a stay at home mom, I’m a home schooling parent, I run my husband’s business, I do all the cooking and household duties, and all of the shopping and finances for my family. That’s like six full time jobs. Yes, I feel guilty I’m not doing enough. There’s just not enough time in the day. I am constantly redoing my list.

So, how do you fit dance into that?

I put it off for a while. In the last three months I just started my troupe up again. I make the time that I have committed to these woman. It’s easier now that Aiden is older, but it’s still tough even though we rehearse at my home. I’m often not ready when everyone shows up because I’m still putting food on the table or dealing with a tantrum or finding a certain toy. Before re-entering this agreement with the two other women, I was upfront and honest with them. I told them I may not always be on time and they might have to do things without me. They agreed that we can work it out. So far so good.

Does Aiden have any interest in dance?

He does. When he was younger he was influenced by my dance. He’s seven now and into boy like things. He doesn’t dance with me but sometimes he’ll play drums while we dance and luckily the other ladies humor him and we let him play along to our music. When I was producing the Tribal Revival events, he would tag along with me. He often refers to and asks if I remember when we use to do those belly dance shows with live music and dancing. Its in him for sure, it will come out later.

Did you have a baby bucket list before you got pregnant?

The ultimate thing that we had to accomplish before we had a baby was to finish the renovation of our basement. But as far as a life goal, no. Once we found out we were pregnant we were like OK, let’s get this renovation done.

Did you have any awkward pregnant stories?

I definitely felt like a waddling duck. After a while I did need help getting off the couch. None of my shoes fit. All I could wear were my big giant ugh like boots. That and my breasts got so gigantic. Nothing I wore could hide them. Literally for months people just spoke to my chest. That was probably the most embarrassing part. There was not a shirt that had a high enough neckline to cover them.

Did you have any body confidence issues before or after your pregnancy?

Well, sure. I had outgrown a DDD cup and I remember crying and saying I’m not buying anymore bras. If I could have wished them to not get any bigger, I would have. This is weird but as a belly dancer and a burlesque dancer, I don’t enjoy flaunting my feminine body parts. Right? I’m a burlesque dancer and I don’t’ like to wear low cut tops. As a performer, I take on an alter ego. For me, I’m showing my dance skill over the feminine prowess. I never did it for sexual attention. It was a fun hobby, to see how good I could make this thing. I always sorta struggled with body issues my whole life. So, yeah having a baby sure did challenge me. I’m lucky that after my skin and belly bounced back. I’ve always had a round soft abdomen. I’m a little bit thicker in the middle than I was before and my breasts did go back after I stopped nursing.

Are there any books or phone apps you can recommend?

While I was pregnant I really liked They would give you a weekly updates on what was going on with your baby. I really enjoyed that. It was helpful for me to discern what I was feeling and going through. Books. I read all sorts of books, but to tell you the truth as soon as that labor kicked in I forgot everything I knew. That’s why I wish I had a doula. You need somebody that knows what’s going on and that is removed from the intense emotions of the situation. If you ask me what happened that day and if you ask Brandon, it’s like we weren’t even in the same room. Your emotions are running so high that it’s difficult to decipher what the midwife is telling you and what your original game plan was. So you need someone with a clear head to help you.


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