Plant Power: 5 Vegan Dancers Share Their Approaches

March 15, 2022

Veganism can sometimes get a bad rap, says registered dietitian nutri­tionist Emily Harrison. “It’s 1950s information,” she says. “Some people still think it’s a deficient diet. So I like to dispel that myth right off the bat.” Though vegan dancers should certainly be mindful about eating smart to fuel their dancing, Harrison says that veganism has lots of benefits—like less inflammation and faster recovery—and that it’s in fact her preferred diet for dancers when done in a mindful way.

Here’s how five dancers across styles approach their veganism, and the plant-based rehearsal snacks, sweet treats and meals that they love.

Yosvani Ramos- Principal dancer at Colorado Ballet

Ramos in Don Quixote. Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Ramos became a vegan in 2019 after watching the documentary The Game Changers, about elite athletes who are vegan. Intrigued by the possibility of decreasing inflammation and injury and being able to dance longer (Ramos was 40 at the time), he did more research and decided to go vegan himself—but not before having one last dinner party where he bid farewell to his favorite meat dishes, like his mom’s chicken fricassee recipe.

Ramos always includes beans for dinner. Courtesy Ramos.

Favorite protein sources: Ramos swears by beans (“I’m Cuban!”), Beyond Meat products and tofu.

Typical meals: He starts his day with a large smoothie with fruit, spinach, carrots, oats, spirulina and hemp protein powder. He’ll snack on peanuts or a banana if he needs a boost between rehearsals, and for lunch he’ll have a salad with a protein like tofu, vegan chicken or beans. For dinner, go-tos include a Beyond Burger, a tofu scramble or tempeh fricassee, and always some sort of beans. Dessert is usually fruit sprinkled with hemp hearts for added protein.

The hardest part of being vegan: “Desserts,” he says. He misses meringue cake and chocolate ice cream in particular.

Shauna Davis – Commercial and contemporary dancer and choreographer in Los Angeles

Davis has been an on-again, off-again vegetarian since age 12, when she did a school project on PETA. Five years ago she went fully vegan, after encouragement from a friend. “It started originally as an ethical thing, but now it’s morphed into so much—for environmental reasons, for health reasons,” she says.

Shauna Davis with Sam Shapiro at Opera Omaha. Raviv Ullman, Courtesy Davis.

Favorite vegan products: Field Roast sausages, Miyoko’s cheese, Abe’s blueberry muffins

Recent vegan discovery: “I was performing at a music festival and I went to Panda Express. They’re making this orange chicken with Beyond Meat. I didn’t know that I missed orange chicken!”

The social challenge: “On the road, even if I don’t feel worried or hungry, there’s always someone who is like, ‘Are you okay? Do you have enough food?’ I’m constantly being checked on, which is so sweet, but I feel like it can be a burden for others.”

Robbie Fairchild – Broadway dancer and former New York City Ballet principal

Fairchild went vegan in 2019 while filming Cats, when a friend in the cast explained­ why he was vegan (and, Fairchild admits, the meat offered on set did not look appetizing). Fairchild soon made the switch himself as he became more interested in the treatment of animals and the sustainability of his food sources, and imme­diately found that his body “became so efficient,” with leaner muscles and reduced inflammation and recovery time.

Go-to breakfast: A tofu scramble, with soy chorizo from Trader Joe’s, quinoa, mushrooms, broccoli and tomatoes, seasoned with turmeric, paprika and garlic, and topped with hummus. “You get so many different types of protein that last you for so long,” he says. “When I have a big day, that’s what I go for.”

Robbie Fairchild rehearsing for TWYLA NOW. Paula Lobo, Courtesy New York City Center.

The tool that makes vegan life easier: Fairchild subscribes to the PLANeT Based Meal Planner, an app that can help plan vegan meals and grocery hauls based on how much time you have and what ingredients are in your fridge already. He says it’s made him a better cook and has taught him quick, delicious vegan recipes, like the TLT (tempeh, lettuce, tomato) sandwich.

The non-vegan treat he still craves: Burrata

Favorite vegan dessert: Van Leeuwen ice cream, especially the honeycomb flavor

Christopher Duggan, Courtesy New York City Center.

Brandi Pinnix – Philadanco dancer

A vegetarian on and off since high school, Pinnix went fully vegan in 2018 after realizing that dairy wasn’t working for her. “My skin has cleared up so much,” she says. “My stomach feels better, and I just feel happier.”

One of Pinnix’s favorite recipes is for vegan banana bread. Courtesy Pinnix.

What she eats in a day: Oatmeal or a green smoothie with spinach, coconut water, mango and banana for breakfast; a veggie wrap or salad for lunch (she likes making a chickpea salad similar to a tuna or chicken salad); favorite dinners include sweet-potato tacos with an avocado crema and chickpea curry.

Go-to rehearsal snack: Peanut butter cookie Larabars (she likes to refrigerate them)

Favorite vegan makeup: Kylie Jenner’s makeup line, which is fully vegan, and the vegan products from Fenty Beauty

Pandemic cooking habits: “Before, I was just ordering food out and being a lazy vegan. But during quarantine I started to experiment more in the kitchen. I had that time to investigate—what am I really putting in my body?”

One of her favorite quarantine recipes: vegan banana bread.

Derick K. Grant – Tap dancer and choreographer based in Boston and New York City

Grant went vegan in 2017, after a period of panic attacks and other health issues that doctors were having trouble explaining. At first, “it started off rocky,” says Grant, who calls himself a survival chef. “I had my moments of weakness,” he says. “Provolone was my mistress.” But once he gave up dairy for good, “daily functions like mucus and breathing and moving and joint repair changed instantly.”

Rehearsal snack: “I used to chew on Twizzlers just to chew the grass, so to speak, anytime I was in the studio working on something. They happen to be vegan in their own strange way. But then that became nuts and seeds.”

Late-night vegan treat: “It was a curse in disguise when Burger King got the Impossible Whopper. Now I have a late-night option when we come out of a show and nothing is open because I’m not in New York.”

Go-to vegan milk: “I’m kinda addicted to oat milk. It’s so creamy.”

The meal he still craves: “My favorite thing that hasn’t been veganized yet is bourbon chicken and rice.”

What Vegan Dancers Should Know…

According to registered dietitian nutritionist Emily Harrison

• Keep protein in mind, but don’t stress about it. “That’s the one everyone worries about, but I’ve been doing this so long that I know my vegan clients usually get plenty of protein,” she says. Just make sure you’re mixing and matching protein sources throughout the day, such as beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains.
• Get your other key nutrients. Harrison says all vegan dancers should be taking a B12 supplement (preferably a methyl B12 or a methylated B12 because it is easier to absorb) and a D3 supplement. You can get most other important nutrients through food, she says. The only other ones you might need in supplement form are zinc and calcium, depending on how much beans, greens, soy, nuts and seeds you eat. She also suggests making sure whatever nondairy milk you’re buying contains calcium, and to shake the container since the calcium may have been added in powder form.
• If you’re vegan and cutting out other food groups, see a dietitian. Harrison emphasizes that a vegan diet is completely healthy and doable for dancers. But for those who are vegan and cut out gluten, or have some other restriction, things become trickier. “It’s possible, but it’s an opportunity for professional guidance,” she says. “We just have to make sure they’re getting what they need.”