Food. A topic that dancers focus on pretty heavily! Today dancer/instructor Emily Kate Long shares some of her personal favorites with readers, along with some thoughts on eating. We’d love to hear from you too, so please feel free to add your own “go-to” foods in the comments section! – Catherine
by Emily Kate Long
Dancers can be an interesting breed when it comes to what we put in our bodies. As elite athletes, our brains and bodies require a lot of fuel to get through long days of rehearsal and performance. Our busy schedules, however, often limit the amount of time and thought we can but into meal planning. And we all have our vices—I know a few dancers who would subsist on chocolate and kettle chips if they could! But, as the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. Content, quantity, and timing are all things to consider when fueling up for the day or replenishing calories after a performance. Here are some inexpensive, easy, nutrition-packed dishes to power mind and body. In the words of the inimitable Julia Child, bon apetit!
If you’re not a morning person, it can be all too easy to grab your coffee and pointe shoes and run out the door. When I was in high school taking 8 a.m. ballet classes, a friend introduced me to Swiss oatmeal. Talk about an easy and nutritious breakfast. There are a lot of fancy recipes out there, but you basically take two parts yogurt to one part whole rolled oats, stir in a little dried or chopped fresh fruit, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The yogurt “cooks” the oats and softens the dried fruit. Before serving you can add nuts, frozen berries, or honey (or a few dark chocolate chips!) for crunch and sweetness. What you get is an awesome shot of textures, flavors, complex carbs, and complete protein to start the day. It’s my first choice for a go-to power breakfast, and a batch will keep up to three or four days in the fridge.
For daytime fuel, it’s important to have energy-dense foods that aren’t bulky in your dance bag or your stomach. A lot of dancers rely on protein bars, which are great in moderation if you find ones like Barre, Kind, or Larabar, that are minimally processed. Hard-boiled eggs are another really good choice—a portable complete protein in convenient single serving. Cut-up fruit and vegetables with nut butter are also valuable fuel. As a bonus, the water content of fresh fruit and vegetables helps you stay hydrated.
I enjoy cooking as a way to unwind and get creative with culinary science experiments, but I don’t usually have time except on my day off. That’s when I cook a few meals’ worth of something and save the leftovers. Often, my base is homemade stock, a flavorful and wholesome staple I can use on its own or in recipes.
Stock is easy to make in big batches and can be super nutrient-dense, no matter what your level of skill in the kitchen. You need good-quality meat with bones, some water, and whatever vegetables you like. A whole or half chicken works well, or beef soup bones. High-quality meat can be pricey, but cuts of stew meat or soup bones are considerably more affordable, even if you’re looking for grass-fed or free-range.
As for equipment, all you need is a large pot. Throw in the bones, vegetables, and seasonings. I like to use celery, carrots, onion, and the tough stems of leafy greens, plus a ton of cracked black pepper and oregano and a little salt. Add enough water to fill the pot, bring everything to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for at least an hour. The longer you wait, the better it tastes. Once it cools, take out the bones and you have a tasty base for soup, pasta, or whole grains that’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and important proteins. Refrigerate some for up to a week and freeze the rest for up to a few months.
Last (and maybe least, depending on your taste) I want to mention sardines as a power food for dancers. They’re inexpensive (under a dollar a serving, depending on where you live) and rich in omega-3s and protein. There’s also little concern about heavy metal toxicity from eating sardines, which can’t be said for other fatty fish like tuna and swordfish. The downside is that these little guys smell and taste pretty fishy. They’re definitely not a good choice to eat between rehearsals if you want your partner to come within ten feet of you!
These are my no-brainer superfoods. They work for me because they’re energy and nutrient-dense while still being inexpensive and convenient. I hope you give them a try. If you do, please share in the comments section, or add your own favorites.
Assistant Editor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice, and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. She has spent summers studying at Ballet Chicago, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Miami City Ballet, and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/Vail Valley Dance Intensive, where she served as Program Assistant. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed principal roles in Courtney Lyon’s Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. She is also on the faculty of Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and repertoire classes.