We all know that dancers are typically perfectionistic, highly-motivated, driven and capable of enduring physical pain. These same qualities that lead to success can also drive stress that eventually leads to burnout.
But did you know that diet can play a role in taking care of your mental health?
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
Before Mathilde Froustey met her now-fiancé, she invited him to come watch her dance—even though he'd never been to a ballet. He's now seen every single performance she's given since that night. "Even when I did six Nutcrackers!" Froustey exclaims.
Kamille Upshaw is no stranger to getting through eight shows a week. The Hamilton alum, who currently performs in Mean Girls, knows what her body needs to perform at its best: vegetables, protein, healthy carbs, but also greasy pizza and treats that please her sweet tooth.
We checked in with her for Dance Magazine's "What Dancers Eat" series to find out the fueling secrets that keep her performances so fetch.
While Ashley Murphy-Wilson was growing up, her grandmother, Ella Bowers, owned a restaurant in their hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, and taught The Washington Ballet dancer how to cook. "She's still teaching me!" Murphy-Wilson says with a laugh. Big family meals were Southern soul food and pure decadence: fried chicken, fried fish, collard greens, sweet potato pies and all kinds of cakes and casseroles.
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Every dancer's nutrition goals are different. Maybe you're trying to go vegan, or maybe you want to cook your own dinner more often. No matter what your personal objectives are—or whether you work with a dietitian—there are all kinds of apps that can help you make smart decisions at the tap of a button.
Finding the right balance of meals and snacks to get through a dancer's day can take a lot of trial and error. To give you ideas, Dance Magazine asked three professional dancers to share the meals that kept them moving throughout one rehearsal day this season. Registered dietitian Emily Cook Harrison, who runs Nutrition for Great Performances, weighed in with her advice on how they could optimize their fuel even further.
For Ashley Wegmann, food is about fuel, but it is also about community. A few times a month, she joins a group of Atlanta Ballet dancers for a rotating party they call "Family Dinner."
"Someone hosts, and we all help prep and cook while snacking and drinking wine," says Wegmann. The group also hosts a big Thanksgiving dinner each year since the dancers are always busy rehearsing The Nutcracker, and most don't live close enough to family to travel home.
Tired of the typical turkey and stuffing? For Thanksgiving this year, try something different with these personal recipes that dancers have shared with Dance Magazine. The ingredients are packed with dancer-friendly nutrients to help you recover from rehearsals and fuel up for the holiday performances ahead.
If anyone raises an eyebrow at your unconventional choices, just remind them that dancers are allowed to take some artistic license!
Ryan Steele has a simple rule for demanding days on Broadway: "I listen to my body," he says. "I have whatever I'm craving: If I need more protein, I go straight for that. If I'm tired, I know I need carbs."
This wasn't always Steele's approach. Growing up, shuttling between the studio and school meant relying on McDonald's and Burger King.
American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Erica Lall spends most of her day in the studio rehearsing with choreographers like Alexei Ratmansky and Michelle Dorrance. But when she's not in the studio or on stage, this "25 to Watch" dancer is home making her family's Jamaican Curry Chicken.
When it comes to what you should be eating, rumors often catch on like wildfire. Dietitian Rachel Fine, who works with dancers in New York City, shares the most misguided nutrition strategies she's recently encountered.
"Whatever I'm into, whether it's ballet or healthy food," says Natasha Sheehan, "I'll research anything and everything about it."
That curiosity has led the San Francisco Ballet corps member, 19, to develop a sideline as an Instagram foodie star and food blogger. Sheehan shares recipes and photos of her beautifully styled meals, along with behind-the-scenes ballet insights, with her more than 44,000 followers.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
Contrary to what her last name might suggest, Ballet West corps member Jordan Fry prefers baking as a cooking method. Her specialty? Picture-perfect cakes with flavors like banana-bourbon-butterscotch with caramel filling and toasted marshmallow frosting.
The self-professed sweets lover began her early culinary education through high school classes and YouTube videos. After a brief stint interning at a wedding cake shop in Salt Lake City, Fry started her own business, Ballerina Baker, in 2017.
Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.
While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."
Some foods have less nutrition than others, admits Hogan, but if you're eating what you crave and honoring your hunger and fullness cues, she says you'll probably get the variety of nutrients your body needs. Here are seven foods that can have a place on your plate—guilt-free.
Trendy media outlets boast that "fit" is the new "skinny." Instagram bloggers encourage us to #eatclean. As our feeds populate with matcha-filled mornings and the deep hues of acai bowls, awareness of "healthy eating" seems to be at an all-time high.
Yet my experience as a registered dietitian in the dance industry shows me otherwise.
When Craig D. Black Jr. and Kevin J. Shannon began dating long-distance four years ago, eating together was a time to get to know each other—and challenge each other. "Craig used to be very picky," says Shannon. As they grew closer, he introduced Black to a wide variety of cuisines and vegetables. "I used to not even like Chinese food, or peas!" admits Black.
Now that they're married and both dancing at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, cooking has become their bonding time. Shannon will make the main dish, like a veggie lasagna using kale from their garden, while Black bakes dessert, often a pie. Today, both dancers love trying out new foods, getting inspiration by eating out in Chicago's Restaurant Row or watching the "The Great British Baking Show."