You must have such a strict diet! Do you eat? Are you allowed to have that burger?! These are all questions I’ve heard over and over again. Part of me understands where they are coming from. Ballerinas have a reputation for being dancing skeletons, but also they have a long history of eating disorders. This is something to keep in mind before asking those kinds of questions. Because though the dancer world has come quite far in terms of health over the last 50 years, the physical shape is something, especially female dancers, still think about and stress over all the time. Before you comment about how dancers look or eat, keep in mind that we stand in front of mirrors every day, all day, constantly correcting how we look. Many dancers, even the tiniest ones, have horrible stories of people telling them they’re too big, too soft, too tall, too short, etc…Every day we are standing in front of people that critique us, and we are pretty good at dealing with it, but if what’s about to come out of your mouth isn’t “you look great”, or “let me get you a piece of cake” maybe it’s best to keep it to yourself.
That being said though, the world of ballet has become significantly better in regards to food and overall health. Fifty years ago dancers were overworked and underpaid. There are stories of prima ballerinas digging in the trash for food, or working a second job through the night just to get by. The mental and physical stress and fatigue did a lot of damage. On top of that, they weren’t protected. Directors were often verbally, emotionally and at times physically abusive. This fear was often used as a control tactic, and that control was used to demand a certain weight and shape.
Now, however, in many companies, there is an understanding that healthier, happier dancers tend to get injured less and last longer. Companies often have nutritional experts as part of their health team, alongside physiotherapists and sometimes even psychologists. Many companies also have a ballet union that works to provide and protect dancers. And we have governments that demand humane hours, holidays, and wages. All of this facilitates a healthy working environment and in turn a healthier dancer. We still have a long way to go, but we still have come very far!
So what do dancers eat? Unlike some athletes who have a very strict eating regime leading up to a competition, we tend to eat everything all the time. Athletes train for a competition, we have “competitions”, or performances in our case, 2-4 times per week. Sometimes even more during the Christmas or touring season. That level of activity requires a lot of energy. Energy = food! So we eat a lot of it! I wish I could say we all eat a lot of healthy food, but that’s just not the case. However, I am a believer in “finding what works for you” when it comes to food. For example, I tried being vegan for a year and though I liked the food, it didn’t like me. But I know for others it works wonders. I think it’s a matter of trial and error and listening to your body. I personally love to cook, and I looove healthy food. Although, I am eating a piece of cake that a friend of mine (dancer) made while writing this, haha. But in general, keeping a healthy diet for me is very enjoyable. I know for others, having fast food every other day is very normal to them. Due to short breaks in the workday, you will often see dances in the studio with a coffee in one hand and cheese roll pastry in the other. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s fuel, and… it’s also very yummy. And days off, well those are simply made to be eat-as-much-as-you-can-refuel-kinda days.
So, in short, what do dancers really eat? Everything.