By Laura Lynott @Ly211 and Grainne McCool @Grainnemccool
A NEW mother who wanted to shed her baby weight – has come up with an entrepreneurial way to both shed pounds and make them – with ultra-trendy mother and baby dancing classes.
Dancer by night, schoolteacher by day, Maria Conway, from Letterkenny, Co Donegal, gave birth to
her first baby, Rhys, in December and for the first time in her life, she found it was a little more
difficult to lose weight.
Like most new mothers, the 37-year- old was busy looking after little Rhys and she realised how
tough it was to stay fit and be a full-time mum – though she did manage to fit in charity dance
sessions when Rhys was only a month old.
Maria has come up with an innovative plan – to help her stay in shape, to lose more weight as she
prepares to become a bridesmaid for her brother Tomas’ wedding in September, and to help other
mothers get fit and make friends.
The Scoil Naomh Brid primary school teacher has launched Dance With Me Baby classes – to bring
the new and expectant mothers of Donegal together to groove with their infants.
“Rhys is my first baby,” Ms Conway said. “I started doing dance rehearsals when he was four weeks
old for a Strictly Come Dancing charity event but then when that finished in March, I was at a loose
end and I really wanted to continue staying in shape and losing weight.
“I came across mums dancing with babies on YouTube in the States and thought I could do that. But I wanted to involve other mammies too – to help them stay fit, lose the baby weight and to make friends too.
“I had decided in my head I was going to start the classes and before I went to bed I had the Dance
With Me Baby Facebook page up and running and it took off from there.”
The classes have only just started in Letterkenny Community Centre and she held her first class in Buncrana on Thursday.
“I love choreography,” Ms Conway said. “But I realised early on in motherhood, that keeping fit is a
tough job when you have a small baby. Mammies can’t always get a babysitter to attend fitness
“It could be the baby’s bed time. The mammy could be tired. When there is a small child, there
could be a hundred reasons getting in the way.
“But with these classes, I had found something that fits round baby.”
Maria already knew a lot of the women in the Letterkenny class from anti-natal when she was
expecting Rhys. The women went through pregnancy together, and enjoyed coffee mornings
together – and now they dance together with their infants.
“I was friendly with all the mammies in my anti-natal class and after I came up with the idea for the
classes, I said I’d do an hour’s class with the ladies and their babies to see how we got on,” Maria
“I told the women, if they enjoyed the class, we would do this. They loved it and I thought if I don’t
give it a go I’d always wonder what if.”
As if she isn’t busy enough – Maria will be returning to teaching a class of eight and nine-year- olds in September, and she is also doing a Master’s in Education and Leadership – but now she hopes this is just the beginning of her mother and baby dance class company.
And ironically Rhys is the third generation of Maria’s dancing family. The baby’s grandmother, Maria’s mother, Sheila McMacken, is a well-known dance teacher in Letterkenny, who teaches ballroom and jive classes.
“I’m a busy lady, but I like a challenge,” Maria said. “I have loved dancing since I was a young girl. I
started dancing when I was at university and I’ve never stopped.
“I’ve taken extra time off work to spend more time with Rhys – and this is the perfect way to do
that, keep fit and make friends.
“And the dance classes are not only very good for the mammies – they are very good for the babies.
The gentle dancing motion I teach the mammies, helps the babies’ special awareness.
“Dancing develops a baby’s balance, speed and body awareness, hearing and touch when the baby
moves through different positions. It stimulates nerve endings in a baby’s ear, it helps balance and
muscle tone – it is amazing.
“Dancing is not just for exercise for the mammy, the baby loves it because the movement is just like the motion felt when the child was in the womb.
“It helps reduce stress and tension in pregnant mothers and brings blood pressure down and loosens the hips for birth.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the favourite songs in Maria’s mother and baby dance classes, is
Pharell’s Happy but she has also put some routines together for Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson.
“Dancing uses up muscles mothers never knew they had,” Maria said. “And carrying the weight of a
baby in a sling, means this is a great way to tone up.
“A class lasts for three-quarters of an hour and that is enough because that is a real fitness routine
for any mammy.”
Maria added: “A couple of new mothers had arrived to the classes a little stressed out because their baby’s feeding times were due – but they needn’t have worried because once their mothers started dancing with them, they were smiling and others were falling fast asleep, because babies feel just like they are in the womb again – it’s all so familiar to them.”
If mothers are interested in joining the Letterkenny or Buncrana classes, they can log on to the Dance With Me Baby Facebook page. Babies must be at least six weeks old and have passed their first health check.