How A Ballet Dancer Eats

Think ballet dancers survive on a couple of lettuce leaves and raw almonds every day like the films would have you believe?

Johanna Lee is a professional dancer with Melbourne Ballet Company. Previously with Sydney Dance Company, she trained at the Australian Ballet School; the cream of the crop in the ballet world. We chatted to Johanna to hear about how she fuels her body through heavy performance days, along with her favourite restaurants in Melbourne – and those little guilty treats we all can’t live without.

How did you become a ballet dancer?

I was three years old when I started to dance. It wasn’t always ballet and contemporary though, it was calisthenics (essentially using your body weight to train, like sit ups) and gymnastics. I decided to take ballet classes during my time at calisthenics to help me improve my technique and style. I ended up choosing ballet over calisthenics as, to me, it seemed to have a more interesting career path.

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Johanna Lee. Image: supplied.

I auditioned for The Australian Ballet School (senior school) to further pursue my interests as a career in ballet. In regards to my love of contemporary dance, I didn’t end up appreciating contemporary until a little later in my life, but I absolutely cannot imagine my life and dance style without it. 

What’s your ‘day on a plate’ during heavy rehearsals and performance days?

On a performance day (particularly if we are bumping into the theatre) we usually plot (with lighting, onstage) and rehearse for most of the day before that evening’s performance.

Here is my typical ‘day on a plate’ for performance days:

Breakfast: usually a porridge and muesli mix with cinnamon, and a soy latte
After class snack: a banana or pear and a muesli bar
After our first lot of rehearsal and plotting on stage, Lunch: tinned tuna spread on Saladas
After our second lot of rehearsals and while doing our makeup, Dinner: a cheesy-mite scroll and a soy latte. If I’m eating at home it’s different (see below).
Throughout the show I drink Gatorade, water and have some lollies in case I need an instant energy hit to get me through the show. 

What’s your go-to meal to whip up at home?

I find a stir fry the healthiest and quickest meal to cook when I need a nourishing dinner after rehearsing all day. My partner Jon and I have a very simple and fresh stir-fry dish we like to make: beef strips, green beans, bok choy, rice noodles, sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce, grated ginger and grated lemongrass.

What are some of your favourite restaurants to eat at in Melbourne?

Some of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne include Hunky Dory for fish and chips; Pho Hun Vuong 2 in Victoria Street for Vietnamese; and Grill’d for burgers.

What treat food can’t you live without?

I have a sweet tooth, so I can’t live without chocolate! Cadbury’s peppermint block or Turkish Delight block are my weaknesses!

Matilda is a British-Australian-French freelance writer. She has flat-packed IKEA furniture in London and Melbourne, and no idea what’s coming next. She’s written for The Guardian, FasterLouder, mX and Grazia, and really likes hot chocolate.