Star Ballerina Misty Copeland's Cooking Rules
The American Ballet Theatre star talks about how her diet has evolved and the importance of educating and inspiring the next generation.
What’s usually in your refrigerator? “I’ve had such an interesting path coming from an underprivileged community and not having access to a lot of healthy, quality foods. It’s been such a big part of the way my life has changed. Moving to New York City and becoming a professional ballerina and realizing how important it is to have healthy foods. As an athlete and a ballerina I need food to fuel my body. My diet had changed a lot over the years. I went from growing up with Top Ramen and hot dogs and Spam to becoming a pescatarian and really focusing on clean foods and vegetables and fish. Staples that I have in my refrigerator all the time are kale, I also love onions and garlic and Brussels sprouts and carrots. I love to have just a bunch of vegetables that I can just season with a little olive oil and throw in the oven.”
Given all the physical demands of being a professional dancer, did you need to change your diet to stay energized? “I feel like I found a good balance. In the past, again, not being educated and not having the access, I didn’t know how to do that. So I was eating a lot of empty calories and processed foods. Since I’ve stopped, I’ve just felt such a huge difference in my energy and in the way my muscles are even shaped (leaner and longer).”
Why did you decide to partner with Naked and Wholesome Wave on the Drink Good Do Good campaign? “It’s just made sense for me to partner with Naked. This is my second time around. To be able to give back to communities and to people who grew up like I did not having the food that they need to keep their minds alert in school. So it’s just been a big part of my mission, not just diversifying classical dance, but really teaching and educating people in taking care of their bodies.”
Modern dancers traditionally have a different build than ballet dancers. Do you think that’s changing? “I think the dancer’s body changes from generation to generation because of what we know about taking care of ourselves as well as the way choreography has advanced. It’s just naturally become more athletic, so it breeds a different kind of body. I think you definitely see more fit, athletic dancers than you have in the past.”
It sounds like you really enjoy cooking. “I love to cook. When I’m stressed or when I just want to be creative (and it’s not as taxing as dance), I go in the kitchen and I improvise. I think that’s the beautiful thing about cooking, taking whatever you can get your hands on that is quality and creating and making something out of that… I do a lot of roasted vegetables. I bake fish. I have a good salmon recipe where I make my own marinade with orange juice, brown sugar and soy sauce and chives and vinegar.”
Do you like to cook to music? “Yeah. I need music for everything that I do. Music and a glass of prosecco and I’m ready to cook.”
What cookbooks do you read for inspiration? “I have so many! My very first cookbook ever was Rachel Ray’s 30-Minute Meals. I made every recipe in the book. And then when I went on her show, one of the dishes that I made was one she taught me when I was like 18. I went ‘you taught me to make this dish!’ It was the black bean soup with lime shrimp. But I was like ‘if you don’t mind, I changed some things.’ She was like ‘it’s okay.’ It was a little intimidating.”
Is there another famous chef who you would like to cook with? “I was a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain.”
My son loves your guest appearance on animated PBS show Peg + Plus Cat. Is part of your educational mission reaching young children? “Naturally a lot of young girls want to be ballerinas and so being able to share a brown ballerina it gives so many people who feel different or not included, an opportunity to dream. So much part of the ballet culture is this tradition of giving back and passing down knowledge. A lot of things aren’t documented or filmed and it’s literally passed through the memory of the dancers from generation to generation. I feel like it’s really innate in me to want to give back to the next generation and educate.”
Misty Copeland is a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. She has also partnered with Naked and Wholesome Wave on the Drink Good Do Good campaign. Record a Shopping Cart dance video and post it on Instagram with #FillYourCartForGood, and Naked will donate produce to communities around the country.
Interview has been condensed and edited.