How Chrissy Kokiri juggles motherhood, raising a baby and being on tour.
During her ten-year career, dancer Chrissy Kokiri (Tapuika) has ticked off many bucket-list items including international tours with New Zealand Dance Company (NZDC), and last year alone she danced professionally four times while pregnant with her son.
Alongside partner Carl Tolentino, who is also part of NZDC, Chrissy recently relocated to Sydney to raise nine-month old son, Kaharoa. Together they are about to return home to embark on a national tour of Aotearoa for NZDC’s production Night Light, and Chrissy is ready to embrace the juggle of pursuing her dreams alongside raising a baby.
“I’m looking forward to this next tour. It’ll only be the second time we tour with Kaha, taking our little buddy on the road with us.”
The up-coming three centre tour heads to Rotorua, Hamilton and New Plymouth – a much more demanding trip than the last tour with Kaha, which was to Wellington six weeks ago and for a shorter stint. Understandably, tour life is a lot different with a baby.
“I have to be so much more organised. I won’t wait until the morning to get his things ready. I’ll make sure his breakfasts and lunches and clothes are ready the night before, especially when I have to be at rehearsals or at the venue at an exact time.”
It also helps that Carl’s mum is flying over from Sydney, “to help us with the bedtime routine, looking after Kaha while we are on stage performing.”
And, during the next ten days of rehearsals, Kaha is a firm fixture in the NZDC studio. “He sits up on the mat, he rolls around, he plays with his toys. He loves watching us dance, eating his avo on toast. You can see him taking it all in.”
Chrissy thinks there must be a positive impact on Kaha’s development, too, watching his parents and their friends dancing and enjoying themselves. “He’s around music all day; around people who are smiling and happy all day. He gets to meet so many people all the time when we are on tour, and I think it’s going to make him a lot more sociable.”
It’s important for Chrissy and Carl to include Kaha in their creativity, but not necessarily because they want him to follow in the family footsteps. “What’s that saying? ‘Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ That’s how I feel.”
There are moments though, Chrissy admits, when she feels pulled in two directions. She doesn’t describe it as ‘mum guilt’ but feels like she can’t be giving 100% to either her work or her son.
Chrissy shares an anecdote with mild shock mixed with happy reflection. “There was a moment when I was dancing upstairs in the rehearsal studio and he was asleep in the room downstairs, and for a tiny moment I swear I forgot I’d had him.”
“I turned and saw him on the baby monitor, and thought ‘Oh my god! That’s my son!’ It felt like I’d been back in 2020, dancing around my friends.”
Even though it hasn’t happened since, Chrissy knows the strange feeling was brought on by being absorbed in something else she loves.
“I think you’re doing yourself and your kids a disservice if you don’t at least try to be involved in what you enjoy. It’s really important for kids to see you doing something you love, that’s a pretty special gift to give them.”
The alternative is something Chrissy grew up with and is, in part, what inspired her to commit to her dreams. Her mum passed when she was young, and she was raised by her dad who didn’t always enjoy the jobs he had to take on.
“I love him for doing what he had to in order to raise us, but sometimes I wish I could’ve said to him ‘do it, do what you want to do’.”
Her dad now lives in Tauranga alongside his wife, and will get to watch Chrissy perform with NZDC in Rotorua. “He loves watching me dance. He’s one of those classic dads who thinks that even if I’d just be standing in the background doing nothing he’d say ‘wow, you’re incredible’.”
The move to Sydney followed a desire to be closer to the majority of both families, which was an interesting coincidence when Carl and Chrissy were first getting to know each other.
“Carl grew up in Sydney but my sisters relocated there about ten years ago. It’s wild that both our families are there! It is probably the biggest reason why we moved, to have that support. Some of my favourite childhood memories are of being with my cousins, and of Christmas gatherings and so on, and we wanted Kaha to grow up around his cousins.”
Yet the return to Aotearoa will always be a big pull, and Chrissy is happy to be able to continue dancing part-time with NZDC.
“Auckland and Sydney both feel like home now, but I’m always so grateful that I lived and grew up in New Zealand, and for us to be able to go on national tours because of the scenery, and the people. It’s amazing how safe it feels here.”
The New Zealand Dance Company tours NIGHT LIGHT to Rotorua August 12, Hamilton August 17, and New Plymouth August 24 2023.
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