Here’s How a PA Ballet Dancer Prepares for The Nutcracker

For this week's Sweat Diary, we went behind the scenes with PA Ballet dancer Alexandra Heier.

pa ballet dancer

For this week’s Sweat Diaries, we go behind the scenes with PA Ballet dancer Alexandra Heier. Photographs courtesy Alexandra Heier

Welcome to Sweat Diaries, Be Well Philly’s look at the time, energy, and money people invest in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle in Philly. For each Sweat Diary, we ask one Philadelphian to spend a week tracking everything they eat, all the exercise they get, and the money they spend on both. Want to submit a Sweat Diary? Email with details.

Who I am: Alexandra Heier (@alex_iliseheier), 23, from Rittenhouse

What I do: I am a professional ballet dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet (I am currently performing in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker; catch me on stage December 14th at 11 a.m., December 21st at 2 p.m., December 22nd at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and December 27th at 12 p.m.)

The role healthy living plays in my life: As a ballet dancer, it is critical to maintain a healthy lifestyle that focuses on balance above all. Each day in the studio, I challenge my body to do more so that I can achieve new goals and continue to improve. Mindful eating, exercise, and physical therapy are important components to maintaining my rigorous daily routine. As I have dealt with stress fractures in my feet and tendinitis in my hips, rest and recovery are essential parts of my day. I maintain a nutritious diet that keeps me fueled, but of course includes some cheat meals! I listen to what my body needs to look and perform my best.

Health memberships: With the PA Ballet discount, I pay $30/month to be a member at The Sporting Club at the Bellevue.


pa ballet dancer

This PA Ballet dancer starts her day with açaí. Photograph courtesy Alexandra Heier

8 a.m. — I wake up and make coffee with organic vanilla creamer.  For a nutritious breakfast, I make an açaí bowl with banana, coconut chips, and sliced almonds on top.

10 a.m. — I have my hour and 15 minute long morning class, which is when I warm up for the day and work on my technique. After class, I have a banana.

11:30 a.m. — I have an hour-long rehearsal for the parts of Snow, Flowers, and Marzipan in The Nutcracker.

1 p.m. — I make a lunch that consists of pasta with ground chicken, broccoli, and onions in a sweet and spicy mango sauce.

3 p.m. — Time for a run-through of Act 2 of The Nutcracker, during which I rehearse my biggest and most challenging role of Dew Drop, the lead of the Flowers scene, involving difficult turns and lots of explosive jumps (my favorite!).

4:30 p.m. — Now for a run-through of Act 1, during which I rehearse Snow, a brisk scene with a lot of running and jumping. This scene pushes the endurance of the corps de ballet women. We have to be very strong to be able to get through 25 to 30 shows of Snow each season without injuries. It is not easy on the body!

6:30 p.m. — I head to the Sporting Club at the Bellevue. I hop on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes to do some interval training for endurance, followed by 30 minutes of abs, hip exercises, and stretching, and then 10 minutes in the hot tub to loosen tight muscles.

8 p.m. — I make teriyaki chicken with brown rice, asparagus, broccoli, and green beans. I enjoy my dinner and some downtime before heading to bed to recover before the next day.

Daily total: $0


pa ballet dancer

This PA Ballet dancer makes time for conditioning around her rehearsal schedule. Photograph courtesy Alexandra Heier.

9:30 a.m. — We have a late start today since we’re in the theater in the evening, so I have a relaxing morning with my cup of coffee and make some oatmeal with a drizzle of honey, banana, and a little bit of fresh ground honey roasted peanut butter (the best!).

12 p.m. — I have class at the studios to prepare for the day.

1:30 p.m. — A two-hour Act 2 rehearsal for some last-minute details before we head to the theater.

pa ballet dancer

A PA ballet dancer waiting backstage. Photograph courtesy Alexandra Heier.

4 p.m. — I have leftovers of my lunch from Monday. I love having leftovers for a nice hot lunch that is ready in no time and makes the most out of the food I make.

6 p.m. — We have our first rehearsal at the theater for this season of The Nutcracker! The focus of tonight’s rehearsal is to get Act 1 worked out on stage. I bring a Luna protein bar with me to have during one of our five-minute breaks.

9:30 p.m. — Today’s rehearsal turned out not to be too taxing, so I hop on the elliptical and do 30 minutes of abs, hip exercise, and stretching in the small, beautiful gym I have in my building.

Daily total: $0


Coffee is necessary for long rehearsals for this PA ballet dancer. Photograph courtesy Alexandra Heier10 a.m. — I make some whole wheat toast with honey roasted peanut butter and banana on top.  Of course, I also have my cup of coffee.

12 p.m. — We begin the day with class at the studios. I notice that my body is starting to feel the effects of this intense period, so I have a turkey sandwich with honey mustard, kale, and onions and make sure to get to the theater with enough time for physical therapy and a nice long warmup before rehearsal.

3:15 p.m. — Act 2 tech rehearsal to work out all the kinks onstage from this act.

5:15 p.m. — I only have a quick break before I have to be back at the theater to do my hair and makeup, so my boyfriend kindly brings me my usual salad from Sweetgreen: a modified Harvest Bowl with almonds and goat cheese replaced by corn and onions. ($10.50).

6:30 p.m. — We have our first full dress rehearsal of The Nutcracker and I bring a coffee from Rival Bros. to give me a boost to get through it ($2)!

Daily total: $12.50


pa ballet dancer

A quick sushi lunch for this PA Ballet dancer. Photograph courtesy Alexandra Heier

8:30 a.m. — I wake up and have some granola with milk along with my coffee.

10:30 a.m. — Back to the studio for class until 11:45 this morning, and my body is feeling better than yesterday. I’m able to push a bit more and work on some of the steps for my featured roles.

1 p.m. — I grab lunch at one of my go-to restaurants, Sumo Sushi. I have the lunch special of two rolls that comes with miso soup ($8.95).

2 p.m. — I head to the Bellevue for a quick swim, then use my NormaTec Recovery boots before rehearsal.

4 p.m. — I have an hour-long rehearsal for the big corps de ballet female roles, which are Snow and Flowers.  These parts are always challenging due to the complexity of the choreography and the number of dancers involved.

5:15 p.m. — I make some lean meat sauce with pasta and a kale and spinach salad with nuts, avocado, dried cranberries, and onions. This dinner will give me a nice boost of iron and energy.

6:30 p.m. — The last dress rehearsal of the opening night cast (Snow and Marzipan corps de ballet for me) before the show.

10 p.m. — I get home and do some hip and ab exercises as well as have a snack of raisin bran cereal (I love breakfast foods at any time of day!) before heading to bed to rest up for opening night.

Daily total: $8.95


pa ballet dancer

Thai food for dinner before opening night for this PA Ballet dancer. Photograph courtesy Alexandra Heier

9 a.m. — I have an açaí bowl topped with banana, coconut chips, and sliced almonds for breakfast with my coffee.

11 a.m. — I have class on the stage of the theater today, which is helpful to get comfortable onstage before the performance. After class, I practice my challenging steps onstage to get used to how they will feel here, as opposed to the studio.

1 p.m. — We have a three-hour dress rehearsal with a small audience and, SURPRISE! Due to an injury, I find out that I’ll be dancing Dew Drop in this run. I eat a Luna protein bar to sustain me through the challenging dance. This role is always a joy for me to dance, especially with the energy of an audience.

5 p.m. — I’m exhausted after the day’s events and need to refuel before opening night, so I get dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant, Jasmine Rice. I have the dinner special that combines the Thai papaya salad and satay chicken appetizers with a side of rice ($14).

pa ballet dancer

PA Ballet dancer Alexandra Heier waits backstage during the dress rehearsal. Photograph courtesy Alexandra Heier

7 p.m. —  It’s finally opening night! I pick up a coffee from Rival Bros. on the way to the theater and get ready for the show!

9:30 p.m. — I’m a bit hungry when I get home from the show, so I have an açaí bowl since I didn’t finish it all this morning. Then I use my NormaTec Recovery boots and get ready for two shows on both Saturday and Sunday!

Daily total: $14

Weekly Totals

Money spent: $35.45

Ballet rehearsals, classes, and performances: 16

Other workouts: 4

NormaTec Recovery sessions: 2

Açaí bowls: 3

Cups of coffee: 7

Let’s get social! Join Be Well Philly at: