|I Sweat Cherry Juice|
|Thursday, 28 March 2013 00:00 | Written by Tonya Kay | Blog Entry|
Signing autographs in a different time zone each week. Waking early to make small talk on morning radio. Snarling as a dirty, corset-wearing character in front of thousands of shrieking teenagers from a sold-out stage at Madison Square Garden. Sometimes even I think it's play. But it's my job.
I've been dancing professionally for around 20 years. I was stretching splits at age seven. I was tapping time steps under my seat in kindergarten. I was counting crunches in the womb (or at least that's what mom said it felt like). And sometimes even I have to remind myself of the broken rib cartilage, torn hamstrings and transverse fasciae latae insertion tendonitis to remember that professional dance isn't all passion and play. It's a job. And it's a sport.
The Journal of Sports Medicine, in 1975, ranked the demands of ballet ahead of 60 other physical activities, including football. Not only do dancers perform at expert levels of strength, coordination, flexibility and endurance in order to entertain their audiences, but they do it all while ripping open their souls and baring their most vulnerable emotions at the same time.
Try screaming at the top of your lungs while running a mile. Try sobbing while swimming your laps. Try cracking up the other players on the court for two minutes. If any doubt was previously held about the added exertion of emotional output, it will disintegrate with your sweat and tears. There is no question in my mind: dance is one of the most challenging sports.
And still, after two decades in the business and my dream gigs solidly sorted on my resume, the question I get asked more than any other is, "But how do you build muscle without eating meat?"
My legs are visibly powerful and hold me in extreme positions. When injured, my body repairs damaged tissue at a rate that surprises even me. I can master any athletic movement after seeing it only twice. And if it is really true that the body replaces itself entirely every seven years, then all my squats, yoga poses, split leaps and stair climbs are performed flexing 100% plant-nourished muscle. In the past 25 years, my body would have replaced itself three times over. I'm living proof that a professional athlete's body thrives cruelty free.
I remember arriving on tour in the rhythmic, percussive STOMP show in January 2003—Little Miss Sunshine claiming to be a raw vegan (eating only uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds). My new cast mates smiled with a knowing look in their eyes; they'd seen spouses take up girlfriends, the religious take up blackjack and the vegetarians take up fish under the perils of touring life.
Fondly, they called me 'rabbit' and I set out without precedence and without doubt that if there were a way to eat raw vegan on the road while performing the most physically strenuous show of my life, then I would find a way. Three years and 600 performances later, the cast mates who once called me 'rabbit' were now complimenting my solid figure and inexhaustible energy. This time it was I giving the silent, knowing smile...
It hasn't always been easy being green, though. In 2007, dancing on my first rock-and-roll tour with the band Panic At The Disco, I was living the rock-and-roll fantasy: wake up, stumble off the bus, perform in a new stadium, party until the set is loaded out, jump back on the tour bus and attempt to sleep in transit to the next state's stadium. Wake. Rinse. Repeat.
In STOMP, at least I could take a taxi ride to the nearest health-food store, or sweet talk the Hooter's chef into creating an all-veggie salad and guacamole plate for me. Even Danville, Kentucky's Wal-Mart (egads!) had organic produce to smuggle back to my hotel. But on a rock-and-roll tour, there are no hotel rooms. And that 2x2 icebox on the bus holds very little space for a veggie stockpile when shared with 11 other dancers. Let's just say there have been times I've had to be very creative (and open-minded) about my raw vegan choices. And there have also been times when my choices have influenced entire casts, and catering and craft services. Things are really changing.
I used to think I was the only one, but the longer I am running clean, the more elite plant-based athletes I've befriended along the way. There is Brendan Brazier, raw vegan Ironman triathlete; Robert Cheeke, competitive vegan bodybuilder; Koya Webb, raw vegan fitness model and personal trainer; and Tim VanOrden; raw vegan skyscraper-racing champion. We all seem to agree that it's possible to build muscle on the vegetarian diet. Rather, we wonder how it's possible to chow chemical isolate powders and thrive as athletes. Stress takes energy to digest in the body. It just stands to reason that foods with the easiest digestibility and highest nutrition would leave athletes the most energy to perform their sport. Put your energy to efficient use!
After all, protein doesn't build muscle; only exercise builds muscle. Why do we allow marketing to interfere with our families' health education? I see well-meaning folk spooning tuna in between meals, scooping whey into their smoothies and basketing any junk-food bar with a 'low carb' label. Never mind that most consumers don't know what the word carb is short for or what its function is in the body. Instead, they obsess about protein, hoping they will build bigger, better, slimmer bodies, when doing pushups at the office, stretching before bed and turning off that television five nights a week is the path to their healthiest bodies ever. And it's free of charge.
Maybe it's the mental myths that have athletes hesitating on that final commitment to making the meat-free switch. To dispel some of those myths, I offered one detailed month of my raw vegan diet to nutritional-science enthusiast, Joanna Steven, just so I could really answer that innocent question, "Where do you get your protein?" Boy, did I feel exposed writing down and offering up every ounce of kombucha I drank and every gram of spirulina I added in a fortnight.
In the published results of that study, the Raw Nutritional Analysis eBook finds that I, Tonya Kay, get an average of 104% of my Recommended Daily Allowance of protein from kale, avocados, coconuts, seaweeds and the occasional handful of sprouted seeds and nut butters. In fact, my nutritional profile far exceeds suggested government standards on all accounts. And I eat all day long. And my body is lean. And my heart is strong. I am a real-life, raw-vegan, professional athlete.
But honestly, I don't eat vegetarian/vegan/raw vegan because it makes me a better athlete. I eat this way because I don't have to wear deodorant anymore, plain and simple. There's nothing like one's dance pants wet with peach scent after a three-hour rehearsal in late August. These simple, clean joys are the private experiences that make life delicious.
I sweat cherry juice.
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