Lifestyle: How to exercise and eat like a ballerina
Last year we attended the ballet together and after being taken back by the graceful nature of the dancers and the incredible movement of their bodies, we found ourselves getting somewhat distracted. I mean how could you not. Now it wasn’t the bewitched Swan Queen, doomed Prince, or the breathtakingly beautiful drifts of white tutus, it was those unearthly ballerina bodies. Long, lean and strong, these ballerinas were the epitome body inspiration. So we walked out convinced barre classes were the answer and after 7 attended classes and the production of Swan Lake plastered all over our office mood board, we were no closer to that Natalie Portman circa Black Swan body.
Plan B. Ask a real life Ballerina to share her exercise and food diary.
Enter Natasha Kusen.
The Sydney-born dancer embarked on every little girl’s dream to become a Ballerina at the age of 4. (Excluding myself that is. I knew from a very early age that my signature face plants were not what dancer traits were made of). Natasha went on to train at Nicholina Kuner’s Academy Ballet in Randwick. Winning a scholarship at the Prix de Lausanne to study at The Royal Ballet School in London in 2001, she soon cemented her path to becoming a soloist which she achieved with the Australian Ballet Company in 2013. In LOVE TWAIN terms, a real life Ballerina!
So what did we learn from Natasha’s shared wisdom? Well, the good news was that our lack of Ballerina body was not to our lack of barre classes, no. This would require a full-time commitment, quite literally. The even better news, we actually gained some useful tips and insights into some more attainable goals of looking our own personal best.
For all the girls who loved their ballerina musical boxes and dreamed… Enjoy x
Let’s talk exercise
A typical workout for me includes:
Just a usual day at the office or in my case in the studios for me! I start the morning with Pilates as a warm up before our daily classes where we fine tune our technique every day for one and a half hours. I then continue the day with rehearsals for another 6.5 hours. During my lunch breaks or after work, if I need to work on stamina or maintaining strength I either go back up to the Pilates room, get on the sprint bike for extra cardio or do I’ll do weights.
Performance day looks like:
Officially we start at 11am, but I am in the Pilates room at least for an hour before warming up and revving my body back into gear from a performance the night before. After morning class, we rehearse to 3pm then it’s our lunch break to eat, rest, get Physio treatment, catch up on normal life duties then I’m back in the theater around 5pm to slowly get ready for the show….
I do my own hair and makeup, check I have the right pointe shoes ready, do a pre-show barre, quick practice and mental preparation, put my costume on, last practice on stage for myself and try any tricky partnering work with my partner minutes before curtain goes up at 7.30pm. Our shows can vary between 2-3 hrs so sometimes I’m not home until 11pm. Then it’s eat, sleep and repeat!
How many hours a day would you exercise:
Around 8 hourrs a day.
Do you train with a trainer?
We have an in-house Pilates and strengthening coach and of course our Ballet masters and mistresses whips us up into shape daily through our daily ballet classes, rehearsals and shows.
Do you visit a gym?
Yes, I use Kaya health clubs in Melbourne and Elixir in Sydney.
What is your favourite workout?
The cross trainer and interval training that makes you sweat. But there is no substitute from the fitness levels you get from dancing! Dancing abundantly on stage and off has got to be my favorite workout though.
After a big workout, the first thing I do is:
Hydrate and after an exerting performance I do an ice bucket for my lower legs.
How can we all incorporate ballet into our daily workout routine?
Our dance fitness comes from loading our own body weight, planking for a minute daily is a great start. Also, interval training can be quite similar to our fitness because in our performances we dance in a series of short bursts. And I swear by Pilates, you won’t meet a professional ballet dancer that does not do some sort of Pilates exercise. Vital for added core strength, posture alignment and daily medicine for our bodies to ensure longevity in our dance careers!
What parts of the body does ballet really target?
Ballet targets all the muscles you never knew you had! We take care and strengthen every muscle from our head to toe and deeper! Our pelvic floor and deep rotators (Quadratus femoris muscle) need to be strong and active to achieve the technical classical turnout position but for us ladies en pointe, our calves and metatarsals need to be in top form!
Let’s talk diet and nutrition
Nutrition to me is…
Vital. I can’t expect my body to perform at peak condition if I haven’t fueled it properly. But also I do believe nutrition is all about balance in your diet, so don’t forget to treat yourself now and then. I need to fuel my body properly to be able to sustain and keep up with the 200 shows we do every year and keep injuries at bay.
Performance day menu looks like:
Oats and blueberries for breakfast, fresh sandwich with protein and salad or a rice dish with salmon or chicken for lunch, my dinner happens really late so sometimes it’s what ever I have at home or can easily whip up like an omelet. Also my sweet tooth weapon – lollies and fruit during the show for that sugar hit!
A typical breakfast:
Oats and coffee or if I’m having a sneaky Sunday brunch out… poached eggs, avocado, crispy bacon…the lot!
A typical lunch:
Fresh sandwich with some salad in it or delicious sushi!
A typical dinner:
Recently my boyfriend and I have been getting fresh farm boxes weekly so every night we have been eating fresh meat and veggies from local farmers and trying out new recipes!
If I want a treat, I opt for:
Anything sweet. However, if I see Panna cotta on the menu, that’s a done deal.
I limit my intake of:
I feel energised after:
A productive day in the studios or an aftermath buzz from a great performance!
I can’t go a day without:
Coffee and laughs.
Follow Natasha and her life as a ballerine: @tash_kusen
Photo credits: Photographer: Daniel Boud, Hair & Makeup: Vic Anderson, Photographer: Kate Longley (Rehearsing with the Australian Ballet Company).