Dancer Health

Fuel up to make the most of your Victorian Dance Festival experience 

Victorian Dance Festival
Victorian Dance Festival. Photo by Elly Ford

A big convention weekend is like a little dance oasis – you’re dancing all day long, learning new choreography, trying new styles and bonding with your dance pals. But this all-day dancing requires a lot of energy! So leading up to an event like the highly anticipated Energetiks Victorian Dance Festival (VDF), you’ll want to be sure you’ve been taking care of yourself so that you’ll be at your prime. Here are some tips and nutrition strategies to make the most of your convention weekend! 

(We’re so excited that VDF is back, this 22 – 24 April, at Melbourne Showgrounds, including the dance teacher conference and market/expo – Vitality Dance Teacher Day)

Victorian Dance Festival
The Legacy and Co perform at VDF. Photo by Belinda Strodder

#1. Prepare ahead.

To look and perform your best, you need to start at least a week ahead of time (preferably longer if you want to make any significant changes). This isn’t the time to crash diet because that almost always backfires with increased injury risk, and reduced muscle strength, and ultimately boomerang weight gain. Noticeable physical changes take time anyway. So be good to your body, and remember the following three simple tips.

Drink at least 2,400 ml per day for a full week before the event. Then, before you get to the venue on event day, drink at least 500 ml of fluids. Hydration matters more than dancers realise. The first effects of dehydration are fatigue and poor balance. If you are planning on dancing most of the day with few breaks, a sports beverage with electrolytes would be good in this situation. Dancers must bring their own water bottle and could add electrolyte tablets through the day if they need to. A splash of tart cherry juice and pineapple juice in the water bottle can encourage drinking while also reducing muscle soreness.  

The week prior, cut back on sweets, fried foods and red meat, and instead fill up on fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains like oats and quinoa. Take vitamins B12, D3 and the mineral calcium. These have been shown to be deficient in many dancers’ diets.  

Eat smaller but more frequent meals and snacks. Watching portion sizes but eating six to eight times a day can help increase muscle mass and decrease body fat in as little as two weeks, research shows.   

#2. Make good eating choices.

In the huge dance market at VDF, there will be food trucks available. Some food trucks can be great and sell wraps, sandwiches and smoothies, but some might sell a lot of fried foods. Make good choices. You’re going to be hungry, and it’s hard to pass up deep fried foods when blood sugar is low and you’re craving salt because you’ve been sweating all morning. Choose wisely, or plan ahead by bringing your own lunch of simple, easy-to-digest carbohydrates that won’t weigh you down. This could be as simple as a sandwich, or thermos with satisfying warm cooked sweet potatoes, beans and veggies. A good quality thermos that keeps food hot is a must for dancers who travel to festivals, auditions or tour. It could be packed with whole grain or lentil flour pasta, light red sauce and steamed carrots, which will help regulate blood sugar and cut down on sugar cravings. A good thermos can keep things cold, too, so consider bringing plant-based soy yogurt with rolled oats and a sprinkle of muesli or seeds on top. This combo packs a surprising amount of protein, and the carbohydrates from the oats are perfect for giving you quick energy without feeling sluggish. Bringing your own food means more time making key connections at the event and less time standing in line for food.  

Teachers enjoy Vitality Dance Teacher Day, which is Australia’s leading dance teacher conference, held at VDF. Photo by Belinda Strodder.

#3. Eat smart to be smart — how to fuel your brain to pick up choreography fast.

The brain runs on glucose, which is what the body produces when food is broken down and digested. So lack of food means lack of mental focus, memory and mood. We all know it’s hard to pick up steps quickly when you’re ‘hangry’. Low blood sugar from inadequate food intake increases anxiety and restlessness. Eat breakfast before you arrive. Don’t fall for the mentality that food will weigh you down or make you bloated. Stick with something easy to digest like oats/porridge with fruit, nuts and seeds. Simple toast with avocado, or a breakfast burrito with egg, rice or sweet potato are also easy-to-digest ideas. You’ll have energy all the way to the end of your first class. Eat well, dance well, and have fun! 

#4. Pace yourself strategically.

VDF has opportunities for back-to-back classes, auditions and chances to meet choreographers. Participants can choose to do as many as they want. Don’t overdo it. Go over the lineup of teachers ahead of time, and create a game plan for yourself that makes sure you get to take class with your top favourites, and someone new too, while also strategically making time to refuel and hydrate. You have to bring quick snacks in your dance bag. Choose fresh and dried fruit, nuts and seeds or liquid nutrients from smoothies with fruit, soy milk and hemp or pea protein. There are some great sports/energy bars out on the market, just check that the first ingredient isn’t sugar.  

You’ll definitely want to show up feeling your best and having lots of energy because this year at VDF, Royal Caribbean and Creative Studios by Norwegian Cruise Line will both be holding auditions at the event! On April 23, Creative Studios will run a Cruise Repertoire masterclass and Q&A where you can get a feel for Norwegian’s productions and style, and the open dancer audition will follow for dancers 18 and over. Also on April 23, Royal Caribbean will hold a Cruise Repertoire masterclass and Q&A to give a feel for what it’s like to be a professional dancer at sea, and an open dancer audition for dancers 18 and over will be held on April 24. 

In addition to these exciting events, VDF will be home to Australia’s biggest dance market of dance retailers, fashion, services and training institutions. The Dance Market and Expo will be a dance lover’s paradise – with everything dance, all in one place! 

For more information on Victorian Dance Festival, to be held 22 – 24 April at Melbourne Showgrounds, visit

dance nutrionist Emily Cook Harrison

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD of Nutrition for Great Performances.

Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD 
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University, USA. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at

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