Dinner To Go

October 31, 2014

Fueling your body for performance can be an art in itself. But when you leave for tour, it becomes next to impossible to maintain your tried-and-true meal plan. Perishable foods like raw veggies may not be easily available. Cooking is typically out of the question. And your stomach is at the mercy of strange, foreign dishes. Add in different time zones, an unfamiliar bed and intense performance schedules, and your body can get completely thrown off. So how do dancers stay in top form on the road? Five touring veterans gave us their best advice.

Alex Wong

Dancer in TV series “Flesh and Bone”

“My protein powder: GNC Amplified Mass XXX. When you’re traveling, you can’t always find the brands you like.”

Go-to plane snacks:
“Sometimes I fly a few times a week. I bring an empty water bottle in my carry-on, because there are always water fountains. And I always, always have a few bars: maybe a protein bar, a Clif Bar, a few basic granola bars, maybe a piece of candy, some gum.”

Restaurant meals:
“I like to find restaurants that are fairly simple, because when you eat out a lot, you miss that home-cooked taste. I’ll grab a salad with protein in it for lunch. But for dinner, I’ll have something heavier, like a burger or pasta.”

Strangest dish tried:
“Street meat in China. I’m not even sure what kind of animal it was, but it was good!”

Above: Photo Courtesy Wong.

Jacqueline Green

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Must-brings: “Tostitos chips and salsa—they don’t need a refrigerator, and they make me happy. Also, I keep granola and oats in my theater case so that I have a snack right by my station in the dressing room.”

Go-to plane snacks: “I try to keep it light. On a travel day when you’re standing around and not doing anything, you get hungry just because you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing anything, let me eat.’ I usually just have the nuts or pretzels that they bring out.”

Grocery list upon arrival: “I’ll pick up fruits that will last, like apples, bananas and oranges, and maybe some vitamin drinks, energy bars and granola bars. I love the strawberry Special K bars.”

Local flavor: “I try to find a juicery in each city. It’s expensive, and some dancers in the company travel with a NutriBullet so they can make juices themselves, but I don’t really have the space in my theater case. I like green juices with kale, especially when they have apple in them, because it sweetens it. I try to drink juice two or three times a week. When I’m tired, it boosts my energy for the rest of the day.”

Restaurant meals: “I like to get sushi before I perform. It’s light, but it fills you. And if there’s room service at the hotel, I’ll order off the kid’s menu, because they have smaller portions. I love chicken fingers or a chicken Caesar salad. I love any kind of soup. And I try to get a side of mixed vegetables, or something colorful on my plate. But I’m actually trying to figure out a way to not eat out so much on tour. We get a per diem, but it’s still very expensive.”

Strangest dish tried: “I don’t really venture too much—I love, love spaghetti Bolognese, so I order it all the time. Though I do like trying international fast food. There’s

something different about the taste. When we went to Zurich, there was a McDonald’s across the street, and everyone said, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna go there.’ But after performances, almost everywhere else was closed, so we caved. And it was really tasty!”

Above: Photo by Andrew Eccles, Courtesy AAADT

Whitney Jensen

Principal at Boston Ballet

Must-brings: “I always take tea. I love peppermint tea and green tea—and all types of tea, really. If I’m going overseas, I’ll take a protein shake that I like called Sunwarrior, and I might take an oatmeal that’s gluten-free and wheat-free. I’ve been trying to eat gluten-free and wheat-free for about a year, just because I think that sometimes people can develop food intolerances without knowing it. I’ve noticed that since I stopped eating gluten I feel so much better—I’m more energized, and I don’t retain as much water as I used to.”

Travel-sized cooking tool:
“I’ll usually take some sort of blender, sometimes two. When we went to Spain my first year in the company, I took my bullet blender everywhere. But because the power voltage in Europe is so much stronger, it burned out!”

Strangest dish: “In Helsinki, I tried a bite of something that I think was deer. It was definitely unusual.”

Above: Jensen in
Afternoon of a Faun with Sabi Varga. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Acacia Schachte

Freelance Dancer

“Vega powder, which has a lot of dark greens and vitamins in it. I just put it in apple juice and shake it up. I also take spirulina tablets, and I’ve noticed a huge difference in my energy when I take them—it’s like eating a ton of broccoli or kale. And I always bring power gels, little packets that cyclists and other athletes use for a boost of energy. If we have a long day, I might take a power gel before dancing one of our pieces. It doesn’t give me the jitters like coffee would.”

Being vegetarian on the road: “In the morning I try to always have eggs and something a bit heavier right away to sustain my energy. Usually it’s a yogurt and some fruit, maybe a piece of bread or some potatoes.”

Pre-performance meal plan:
“On performance days, I do more snacking during the day, then eat something small right before the show. Maybe a small sandwich or some fruit and yogurt. If the company provides dinner, I might have a little pasta and salad. I like to eat an actual meal after the show, but not too much before.”

Restaurant meals: “Pretty much every dinner is out, after the show. But whenever we have kitchens, I’ll do a lot of cooking.”

Above: Schachte with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in Andonis Foniadakis’
Horizons. Photo by Paula Lobo, Courtesy Cedar Lake.

Katherine Crockett

Principal at Martha Graham Dance Company

Must-brings: “I feel like half of my suitcase is vitamins. I always take Emergen-C—I love the tangerine flavor. Every morning I’ll mix it with a drink powder called Green Vibrance, which is basically dehydrated and powdered greens, like wheat grass and spinach. I also pack a product called Amazing Meal (the chocolate flavor) in my theater case for when I don’t have time to run out for a square meal. It has rice protein and greens, and I mix it with almond milk, which has a creamy texture, so it kind of tastes like a milk shake.

“I also bring some nuts and dried fruit. Raw cashews are my favorite—I’ve been really getting into raw foods lately. They’re easy to digest, so you aren’t adding more stress on your body while traveling. I get a snack mix with spirulina super chips and dehydrated dates.”

Grocery list upon arrival: “If we have a refrigerator, I’ll get kombucha, some coconut water and veggies. If not, Lärabars and healthy crackers, like Mary’s Gone Crackers, that are made with flaxseeds and no wheat.”

Travel-sized cooking tool:
“A hot-water immersive heater. It’s a metal thing you clip onto a cup and plug in to heat up water. Sometimes after a show I like to sleep in, so I’ll use it to have oatmeal in my room.”

Being pescatarian on the road: “In Spain, it seemed like all they had was meat. They basically asked me what part of the pig I wanted—the cheek or the foot. I lived off eggs and toast, and some salad. When I got home, I went to a grocery store and just stood there looking at all that green.”

Strangest dish tried: “Shark fin soup in Taiwan. I didn’t like the idea of it, because they kill the sharks for their fins. But eating it was a respectful thing to do, because it was at an important dinner and the host was graciously presenting something that was a delicacy.”

From top: Dinner in Barcelona with Graham dancers Tadej Brdnik and Oliver Tobin, and a friend, Courtesy Crockett; Crockett as Phaedra, by Hibbard Nash Photography, Courtesy Graham.

Ashley Rivers is a writer and dancer in Boston.