You've been working hard to keep up with your dance training during this period of uncertainty and isolation. Still, your days are probably not as full as they used to be. Many professional dancers enjoy preparing their own meals and snacks, and you could benefit from grabbing your pots and pans, as well. Cooking can be a stress reliever, and learning a new skill can challenge your brain in a different way. Plus, if you're making your own meals, you know what you're putting into your dancer body.
We asked six dancers who are as talented in the kitchen as they are onstage to share a go-to recipe. Follow their lead, and you may soon have a new favorite recipe of your own.
Paulo Arrais, Boston Ballet: Chicken Mirepoix
(Left) Paulo Arrais in George Balanchine's Agon; (right) Arrais in the kitchen (left photo: Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet; right photo: courtesy Boston Ballet)
When an injury and subsequent surgery took Boston Ballet principal Paulo Arrais out of commission for almost a year, he used the time off to hone a new skill. "I've become very experimental in the kitchen," he says. He created this recipe for chicken mirepoix himself, and shares it because it's fast, easy, and can be served many ways.
His biggest piece of advice for novice cooks? Don't to be afraid to play with ingredients. "My measurements might not taste good to someone else," he explains. "You can add less salt, more garlic, different seasonings." He likes to follow a recipe three times, and on the fourth attempt, he'll start making tweaks. "Sometimes it turns out good, and sometimes not," he laughs, "but it's all a learning process."
Drea Sobke, LA Contemporary Dance Company: Yummy Crunchy Quinoa
Drea Sobke (Taso Papadakis, courtesy LA Contemporary Dance Company)
"I find that cooking, or just the simple task of prepping a meal, is calming," says contemporary dancer Drea Sobke, who's been with LACDC since 2009. "It's a nice way to spend time caring for yourself." Plus, when dance life feels overwhelming or all-consuming, "spending time on other activities can bring me back to earth. It widens my perspective to a bigger picture."
During busy rehearsal or show weeks, she often makes what she calls Yummy Crunchy Quinoa. "I'm usually short on time in the mornings, since I try to maximize my sleep," she says. Not only is this dish healthy and tasty, it's a meal you can prepare on Sunday and keep in the fridge all week to grab and go.
Courtney Celeste Spears, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Creamy Shrimp Pesto Pasta
(Left) Courtney Celeste Spears in Alvin Ailey's Revelations; (right) Spears in her kitchen (left photo: Danica Paulos, courtesy AAADT; right photo: courtesy AAADT)
"I come from a family of people who love to cook," says Ailey standout Courtney Celeste Spears. These days, trying new cuisines is one of her favorite activities. "When I'm on tour, I'll look up the most celebrated local joint and go there by myself," she says. "Cuisine is the best teacher when it comes to culture."
At home, she enjoys trying to recreate what she's tasted, adding and tweaking ingredients until she makes a dish her own. "Cooking is like a beautiful improvisation," she says. "You get a structure and then color in the lines with your flavor and personality." Her Creamy Shrimp Pesto Pasta is hearty—"great after a long day of dancing," she says. (In the spirit of improv, it's also versatile for dietary restrictions. Vegetarians can take out the shrimp and add another vegetable, like broccoli or zucchini, while vegans can choose red sauce instead of the creamy pesto.)
Brett Sjoblom, Nashville Ballet: Brett's Burritos ("Brettitos")
(Left) Brett Sjoblom and Mollie Sansone in Romeo and Juliet; (right) the duo in the kitchen (both photos courtesy Nashville Ballet)
Nashville Ballet dancer Brett Sjoblom learned to cook while working at a sports bar to make money before being accepted into the company. He started out watching the line cooks, and eventually became one himself. These days, he enjoys cooking at home alongside girlfriend Mollie Sansone, also a dancer with Nashville Ballet. His favorite recipes are fast and easy while still being healthy and delicious. "After a long dance day, the last thing I want is to be on my feet more," he says.
His burrito recipe fits the bill—and it's affordable, too. That doesn't mean it's boring. "I love trying to make amazing flavors from scratch," he says. "If you find a good recipe, get comfortable making it. After a while, you can start manipulating it. As a pescatarian, I'm always trying to substitute things that I love, and it's so much fun."
Nicole Sabella, Mark Morris Dance Group: Chocolate Date Energy Balls
(Left) Nicole Sabella with Sam Black in Mark Morris' Words; (right) Sabella in the kitchen (left photo: Nan Melville, courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group; right photo: courtesy Sabella)
Nicole Sabella isn't just a professional modern dancer. Since 2018, she's also been a certified holistic health coach, which she says helps her look at cooking through a different lens. "I enjoy planning a balanced meal, thinking of all the wonderful nutrients each ingredient is giving me in my body," she says. "I'm always reflecting on how different foods and meals leave me feeling. I aim to feel empowered, strong, nourished and balanced by the meals I create."
Looking for a tasty snack that offers a boost of healthy energy? Sabella offers her recipe for Chocolate Date Energy Balls: "The ingredients are all natural, from the earth," she says. "These can be an amazing afternoon snack with some coffee or tea, fuel between classes and rehearsals, or even a guilt-free dessert."
Noah Wang, The Juilliard School: Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Left) Noah Wang in Martha Graham's The Rite of Spring; (right) Wang in the kitchen (left photo: Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy The Juilliard School; right photo, courtesy Juilliard)
"My favorite recipe is something I reserve for special occasions: chocolate chip cookies," says Noah Wang, a fourth-year student at The Juilliard School. Sourced from The New York Times, the recipe requires the dough to be refrigerated for at least 24 hours before baking. "This may require extra planning in the kitchen, but it is beyond worth it," Wang says. "I roll the dough into a log, wrap it in cellophane, and after a day of refrigeration, slice it into round cookies." Another essential element: flaky sea salt. "The addition of salt to the rich, chocolatey sweetness makes for a fantastic flavor combo," he says.
Wang sees a lot of commonalities between dancing and cooking. "Dance is strongly visual, yet it also draws upon sounds, textures, places, even smells and tastes. The land of the sweets in The Nutcracker is a prime example," he says. "On the other hand, the pleasure of cooking goes beyond tastes and smells. It also involves the colors of the ingredients, the array of textures you can fit into a bite, and the sound of food boiling and sizzling. Planning a meal is its own choreography."
[*Editor's note: This recipe is behind a paywall, but you can find a similar one here.]