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By Kat Richter
Philly's homegrown performer
In class at the Koresh Dance Company studios
Photo by Bill Hebert for DM
Onstage, Jessica Daley is a firecracker. Petite and wiry, she performs Koresh Dance Company’s signature modern jazz style with emotional intensity and sheer athleticism. Offstage, she’s a fun-loving jokester who thrives on live music and making her friends laugh.
A Philadelphia native, Daley graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in modern dance and performed with the city’s NBA dance team before joining Koresh in 2004. Now one of only 11 dancers in the Philly-based troupe, Daley gets very few breaks during performance—she’s often onstage an hour and 45 minutes of every two-hour show. And with director Roni Koresh’s full-bodied, sometimes punishing choreography, cross-training to maintain stamina and power is a high priority. The company also tours for some of its 10-month season, which makes it all the more challenging for her to stay healthy and injury-free. Dance Magazine spoke with Daley during her summer break to learn how she handles the workload.
To say Daley stays active is an understatement. Biking to rehearsals and walking almost everywhere else, she makes a point of taking the stairs instead of an elevator. In addition to running, swimming, and practicing yoga and Pilates, she also teaches a dance fitness class at a nearby studio.
“Adrenaline is a form of release for me,” she says. “But I’m not 22 anymore; I’m 30. My body has changed.” And though Daley often reserves Sundays for self-care, she is altogether more conscious about her actions inside the studio as well as out. “When you are younger, you just go and go. You’ll do something a hundred times until you get it. Now, I’m like, ‘Let me think about this first.’ ”
Though she has remained relatively injury-free, a sprained ankle four years ago marked a turning point in her career. “I missed one show and that was enough,” she remembers. She was back in the rehearsal studio after only three weeks of physical therapy, but her warm-up regimen changed. Daley now arrives to class at least 15 minutes early for sit-ups and light stretching, always applying Tiger Balm to her feet and calves before any physical activity.
In Philly, Daley typically takes an 8:00 a.m. ballet class at her alma mater, followed by a 10:00 a.m. class at Koresh. “I can never have enough ballet,” she says. “If I don’t take class, my body and my head aren’t speaking to each other.”
When on tour, Daley pulls out her iPhone to search online for a studio in each destination where she can take class.
She tries to leave any outside hang-ups at the studio door to remain focused and in the moment. “I remember being distracted when I injured myself. I was jumping and my ankle rolled,” she says. “There were lots of things going on in my life, but now I try to concentrate more on what I’m doing.”
Walking the perimeter of the stage to remember “where I am and why I’m there” is part of Daley’s pre-performance ritual. Post-show, Daley hits the showers immediately after leaving the stage. “Everyone teases me, but I can get offstage, shower, pack up my stuff, and get out to the lobby while the boys are still in the dressing room,” she says. “It helps my body relax.” She is also careful not to dwell on what she considers bad days—rehearsals or performances. “For today, you won,” she’ll say. “But I’m going to be back tomorrow!”
FOOD FOR FUEL
Daley’s typical breakfast consists of a banana and toast. Because the company rehearses until 4:00 P.m. each day, she typically nibbles on something light for lunch, such as tuna or yogurt and nuts. Dinner is her one big meal: veggies, rice, and some sort of protein, often fish.
Though she loves vegetables—kale, broccoli, and spinach are favorites—she allows herself the occasional indulgence. “If I want to eat that whole bag of popcorn, I’m gonna eat that whole bag of popcorn,” she says. “My body needs it, and that’s what it deserves.”
She doesn’t drink soda, but like many Koresh dancers, Daley starts the day with a cup of coffee at the ballet barre. Her beverage of choice, however, is one she makes herself. “I used to juice, but with a juicer you’re just getting the juice, not the fiber.” Now she swears by her NutriBullet, a late-night infomercial gadget purchase that allows her to combine all of her favorite foods into a single drink. “When we’re traveling, we don’t have lots of time to prepare a meal,” she says, noting that she relies on homemade smoothies for nutrition on the fly. Check out the recipe for Daley’s go-to concoction below.
Jessica’s Signature SMOOTHIE
1 cup water or soy milk
1 handful whole almonds
1 cup raw spinach or kale
Toss the ingredients into a high-powered blender, like a NutriBullet or Vitamix, and blend until smooth. You can still enjoy it with a regular blender—skip the almonds and be sure to dice all ingredients first.
Kat Richter is director of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia’s only all-female tap company.