Examining a dancer's diet

Author: Interview by Sophie McComas
Photography: Tiffany Parker, Greg Barrett

What does a typical day look like for you, Daniel?

A typical work day begins with breakfast and a coffee at home before I jump on my bike and ride to work.  There's no better way to wake up than riding over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and I feel warm, alert and ready for the day by the time I arrive. Morning class starts at 9.30am and differs between contemporary, ballet or yoga, with a short half hour of pilates. After class we have a morning tea break before beginning rehearsals. Depending on the time of year, we're either remounting old work for an upcoming tour or in creation mode for a new work.

Rehearsals continue up until lunch, then we're back in the studio for the afternoon session with a short afternoon tea break, before finishing the day at 6pm. Every second day I'll ride to North Sydney Olympic Pool on my way home for a swim to lengthen my body out and for an extra hit of strength and cardio.

Does your routine affect the way you eat? What about when you travel?

I feel like it only effects the amount of food I can eat at certain times of the day. I'm constantly snacking, but I have a good breakfast, something small for morning tea, a bigger lunch, then not much until I get home for a good dinner. If I'm dancing in a show, I eat an hour beforehand. There's nothing worse than feeling heavy and full while trying to perform. 

Related: Emma Knowles on eating clean.

How physically challenging is it to dance for a whole performance?

The challenge depends on the show, but it's generally a mix of high-intensity cardio and high concentration for over an hour. Performing still gives me a rush that's highly addictive. Most nights I can get so lost in the character or story that the performance time passes quickly, without me remembering much of it. That feeling of losing myself in dance is what I'm always reaching for. 

Daniel Riley performing in Bangarra's  OUR land people stories, 2016.

What has surprised you most about your job?

How much I love the people I work with. From day one when you join Bangarra, you're family. I took a year away from the company in 2015 to explore other opportunities overseas and on my return it was like I never left. That kind of acceptance, love and warmth only comes from family. And that's what they are. 

How do you eat at home, compared to when you go out to restaurants?

My wife and I eat simple, nutritious and delicious meals at home. Spaghetti with pork and chili sausage, kale, zucchini, carrot, flat-leaf parsley and tomato is a favourite ( try a similar recipe here). It may not be restaurant-quality all the time, but it is varied and enjoyable to cook and eat together. 

Any Sydney restaurants you particularly love?

Kylie Kwong's Billy Kwong has to be my number one, it's my version of heaven. Her saltbush cakes with chilli and XO sauce, the steamed pork dumplings, native greens and crisp-skinned duck are all go-to dishes for me. But really, I would eat anything off the menu. I also love LP's Quality Meats in Chippendale. When I'm craving meat, Luke [Powell] always delivers the goods. I always order the smoked sausage and my wife loves the maple pudding with vanilla ice-cream. I also love a late-night feast at Mr Wong. It's the perfect way to end a long week in the theatre at the Opera house on a Saturday night. 

Does the company give much nutritional or health assistance to its dancers?

We have an excellent Safe Dance Program and our team of physio therapists, masseurs, doctors and pilates instructors are always looking out for us and are there when we need them. 

What's your favourite indulgence?

I'm not a big dessert or sweets person. I enjoy everything I love a little bit all the time, so I never have to lose myself in overdoing it on one thing. Outside of food, my favourite indulgence is sleeping in late on the weekend until I need food, then heading back to bed to lounge, read the weekend papers and books and listen to my vinyl collection until mid-afternoon. 

Do you like to cook?

I love to cook, especially the preparation of a meal before cooking. It's one of the things I miss most when I'm on tour. Maybe it's the creative streak in me, but I enjoy working with whatever is in the fridge and pantry. Seeing what I can come up with is always fun and surprising. My most recent 'fridge surprise' included some whole-wheat soba noodles, some leftover vegetables from our weekly fruit and vegetable box, homemade chilli sauce (Kylie Kwong's recipe, of course) stirred through, some fried dumplings from the freezer and a fried egg on top. 

Which three GT recipes from our archive do you make at home?

I love the  white cut chicken with aromatic chilli oil and peanuts.  The simplicity of chicken and chilli oil over rice, is so perfectly delicious. This simple tomato and onion salad with vincotto dressing is also a favourite. The simplicity of this recipe reminds me of my time in Italy with my wife, we spent five weeks travelling and eating. The best five weeks of my life. I love char siu bao, but have never been game to attempt them at home. Maybe it's time I tried.

Catch Daniel Riley in Bangarra's national tour of Stephen Page's Bennelongwhich premieres at Sydney Opera House in June 2017.  

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