The Health Diaries

Why This Ballet Principal Dancer Is Superstitious About Her Routines

How Tiler Peck stays healthy and levelheaded working six days a week

There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.

TTiler Peck is a principal ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet. Critics and writers have described her as “the most musical dancer of our time,” with “seemingly limitless range” and a “fleetness so astonishing, it’s as if her feet were made of wings.”

As one of the most prominent dancers in the country, it’s of little surprise that Peck, 29, is also one of the busiest. Her normal schedule consists of daylong rehearsals and six-day workweeks. She’s also experimenting with projects outside of Lincoln Center, including stints on Broadway and the recent documentary Ballet Now. In the film, Peck curates and directs a multi-day dance program for the Music Center in Los Angeles.

Peck shared with Medium how she keeps up with her demanding and extremely physical career.

I wake up every day at 9:30 a.m., and I definitely use an alarm clock. I wish I were a morning person, but because I perform at night, I’m not. I live really close to work, and that helps.

The first thing I do after I wake up is eat breakfast. I either have an açai bowl with cocoa nibs and almond butter and granola, yogurt with berries and honey, or eggs with avocado toast.

I don’t drink coffee, and I never have. I always go for watermelon or orange juice.

I have class every day from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Then I have rehearsal from 12 to 3 p.m. I have an hour off, then rehearse again from 4 to 6 p.m. Then I will have a show at 8 p.m. On any given day, I could be at the theater from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Monday is our day off. That’s my one day off a week. There are usually two shows on Saturdays and one on Sunday. I may not be in all of them, but I dance a lot.

I am pretty superstitious about what I eat before I dance, and I eat lunch around 3 p.m. I like to eat well in advance of the show, because I don’t like feeling full when I am dancing. I always eat a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and mustard, plus fruit, like a banana. I keep chocolate chip Clif bars on hand and will have one before the show. I eat dinner late, after the show. That’s probably not the healthiest, but I cannot eat a full meal before I perform.

“I think ballerinas are so disciplined that there’s something very calming about having a regimen.”

I am very superstitious about my shoes. I get a little crazy with my pointe shoes. The night before a show, I am very specific with what kind of shoe that I want. The shoes are handmade, and every shoe is different. If I have five shows that week, typically I will go through five pairs of shoes, and then I will wear them for rehearsals the next week. Before the show, I bang my shoes against the wall. Then I go onto the stage and tap my foot, and if the shoes are not good and quiet, I will go back and bang them again. I think that if you can hear a ballerina running or jumping, it kind of takes the magic away for me, so I really like to sound very quiet.

I don’t cook, because my schedule is so difficult and I get out so late. But I always like to have pasta the night before a hard show. It might also be superstition, but it’s my go-to. I get pasta with chicken. I typically order food in or I go out.

After dinner, I lay on the couch with my feet elevated at a 90-degree angle, with a heating pad on my back. I had an injury when I was 18 years old, so I really have to baby my back more than anything.

I take a women’s health vitamin and a natural pain reliever to help with inflammation when I am sleeping. I don’t like to take Advil if I don’t have to.

I typically go to bed between 12 and 12:30 a.m. I really can’t fall asleep before that.

I am not going out to clubs every night and doing what a normal person in their twenties in New York City may be doing, because I have to take care of my body. You have to be a little more driven in this career when you’re younger, especially in the ballet world, where the career can be so short. At the same time, I get to dance at Lincoln Center and be in the New York City Ballet, so it doesn’t really feel like I have to give up too much.

One of the biggest misconceptions about dancers is that people think we don’t eat, which I think is ridiculous. Whenever I go to a gala dinner and take a bite of my dessert, people will say, “Oh, you’re going to eat that?” I am like, “Yes, I am. Are you?” Another misconception is that we all have crazy stage mothers.

Besides dancing, I love Pilates. I think Pilates is the best thing to go hand in hand with dance. It helps lengthen my body. I don’t need to strengthen; I already have a lot of strength.

I like to do projects outside of my daily work. But I used to say yes to everything, and now my body just can’t handle too many things even if my heart wants to. I want a long career, and I want to take on projects that challenge and inspire me artistically. With Ballet Now, the curating and directing was something I’d never done before. I learned how much fun it is to be on the other side. My life is dance, and I love it so much, but my body isn’t always going to be able to physically handle that, so it was fun to help the dancers and pass on the knowledge that’s been passed on to me.

My love for dance is what keeps me motivated. Dance is a universal language that can reach anybody. Whether you’re the dancer or an audience member, you get to escape for an evening and enjoy something beautiful. That’s why I do it.

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that

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