To kick off The Whole Dancer “Summer Inspiration Series” here are some insights from professional dancer Jeanette Kakareka of English National Ballet. We asked Jeanette to share what makes her a “Whole Dancer” and her path to that place. Here’s what she came up with :
Finding the way to fuel your own unique body can be a process, and for me it has been no exception. When I was young, I didn’t experience many different kinds of food and I also tended to eat whatever and not think much about it.
When I moved away from my family and started living with other pre-professional dancers like myself, I began to try new things and it completely changed my way of thinking about food.
Transitions like that can be difficult for some young dancers, but for me, it was all positive albeit confusing.
I could understand and feel the difference in well-balanced meals. I finally learned how great breakfast could be to fuel my body for the rest of the day.
I started eating oatmeal/porridge because it has a good balance of sweet and savory and I could easily add lots of protein and slip in my first fruit of the day. I also learned how important it is for me to “graze-eat” because all I knew during my early years was that I had a fast metabolism and I was generally always hungry.
But now, instead of just wolfing down whatever is closest to me, I have learned what kind of snacks are easy to access yet give my body what it needs for long-lasting energy.
I like to keep snack bars that are the least processed I can find, such as peanut butter “nakd” bars. I also keep snacks such as nuts, raisins, “barbecued” chickpea mixes, and Chinese rice crackers handy.
I am still learning how to eat during particularly physically intense periods, such as a run of double show days of “in-the-round” Swan Lake. I’ll always dance in all four Acts, so even though I love eating and I know I need to, sometimes I’m just too exhausted to feel hungry.
This is why I need to make sure my snacks and lunch/dinners are simple and ready at hand so I can continue fueling my body. One go-to lunch that I love is a tofu, spinach/beansprouts, and quinoa box with seeds, sesame oil, and soy sauce. I’ve written this simple recipe on my blog.
Lots of protein and the quinoa feels really light so I can dance straight afterwards if need be. During runs of shows I also typically eat four meals a day instead of three, so I can spread it out and avoid feeling overly full onstage.
Swan Lake and other intense runs of ballets, such as Nutcracker season, require a lot of mental strength as well. This is when I most rely on my support systems, consciously reminding myself to stay overall positive, and I also indulge in naps. Twenty-minute naps between shows followed by a black coffee can make a huge difference for me, although it doesn’t work for everyone. I also find that coconut water helps me recover faster.
I think mental strength is the most important aspect of being a professional ballet dancer. Practicing, visualizing, and preparing correctly are essential, but I think it’s also important to have other interests and passions.
Ballet requires so much of us, it’s easy to become hyper-focused (especially when you are young) and at the end of the day, think of little else.
Being a multi-faceted person makes you a better performer.
We love what we do, but the ups and downs are extreme and can be quick. It’s easier to take everything personally when your body is also your instrument, so to speak. Since I have focused more on finding joy and substance outside of my work, I have been able to handle the waves of emotions dancing professionally brings a bit easier.
Having other interests is also important for when dancers get injured and have free time on their hands. They should try and enjoy something outside the realm of their injury. Injuries can make us feel helpless and out of control, so it’s good to have another thing to focus on.
Outside passions and relationships make you a more well-rounded person, and you’ll actually be able to enjoy and give more when you’re thinking about your professional life.
Want more on how Jeanette stays balanced? Check out her blog here!
Jeanette was born in Pennsylvania, USA and began training in classical ballet at the Rock School when she was 11. Next, she accepted a scholarship to San Francisco Ballet School, then a two year Traineeship before taking her current job at the English National Ballet.