Life

What keeps acclaimed choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh fit and healthy?

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Indian-born Londoner and internationally acclaimed dancer choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh

Dance choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh's Schiele will be staged at Belfast's MAC theatre as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival this weekend
Gail Bell

1 Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

My schedule changes massively depending on whether I’m in production for a new show or not. If I’m choreographing, I’m up by 6.45am and might go straight to my laptop. If not, I might have breakfast and do my home exercise routine.

2 What might you eat in a typical working day for…

Breakfast? Always a cup of tea, followed by porridge and fruits.

Lunch? When in production, I take something into the studio – usually, whatever I had for dinner the day before. Today it's mushroom pilaf.

Evening meal? I like to have a south Indian meal at least three times a week – though it depends where I am in the world. I recently spent three weeks working in France and after eating out in restaurants a few times, I found some lentils and rice and cooked for myself in the small kitchen I had there. It always has a normalising effect.

3 Is nutrition important to you?

Yes, definitely. I try to buy organic vegetables as much as possible. I’m not a big meat eater and feel healthy when on a vegetarian diet. For the last three years I’ve tried to eat a lemon, juiced, with grated ginger regularly, especially in the autumn when the weather is turning.

4 Best meal ever?

It would have to be my mother’s biriyani – a special occasion chicken dish with intense tastes and aromas. Even though she’s vegetarian, she always very kindly cooked it with meat and made her own spice mix from fresh ingredients which is where her signature flavour came from. She, like most Indians, cares deeply about taste and flavour and will go to great lengths to make food taste good.

5 Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Marrons Glaces [candied chestnuts] takes some beating.

6 Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

I used to have two spoonfuls of sugar in my tea which is a very Indian habit. When I became more health conscious in my late 20s, I gave up on sugar. Generally, I don’t think my eating habits are organised enough to go on a diet.

7 Do you take health supplements?

No.

8 How do you relax?

I love to read and go for walks, although recently, I’ve been too busy to do either. Reading the obituary column in The Economist is an old favourite for some reason. It’s not because I am ghoulish, but more because their choice of people to remember is always surprising.

9 Teetotal or tipple?

I will have a drink at a party and sometimes a glass of wine at home, but not every day. The pleasure is that it’s not every day.

10 Stairs or lift?

Stairs – don’t like lifts unless they're glass ones with amazing views.

11 Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I do gyrotronics and it’s a weekly regime. It's best done one-to-one with a tutor. It has a three-dimensional view of the body which I like and is never mechanical. I always feel rejuvenated afterwards.

12 Best tip for everyday fitness?

Get to know what works for you and what will keep you interested.

13 On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I'd say a five at the moment. I’ve been working seven days a week and travelling three hours a day. When this period is over, it will take me a month to get back to where I like to be: in the eight to10 region.

14 Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I haven’t had acupuncture but I definitely appreciate a massage to keep the muscles smooth and unknotted.

15 Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

At the age of eight, at my boarding school in Sri Lanka, we had to choose between cricket or classical south Asian dance. I chose dance, while most of my classmates ran outside to play. At my secondary school in Malaysia they didn’t do dance and so I found out that I was actually quite a good runner.

16 Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

I had an illness epiphany in 2000 when I developed Guillain-Barré syndrome. It’s a rare, but serious, auto-immune disorder in which the immune system attacks the sheath of healthy nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system, leading to weakness, numbness and tingling and paralysis. I was in a wheelchair for two-to-three months, then progressed to walking with two sticks. You just have to wait until it goes away. Now I very much appreciate the fact that I can walk and run up the stairs.

17 Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

My mother would always say, 'You’re working too hard', so I suppose it would be, 'Take time out and enjoy life'.

18 Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

A fantastic athlete who runs beautifully or a Brazilian footballer inspires me just as much as a dancer. Running is a beautiful activity to watch, specially in slow motion on TV.

19 What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I often work late at night, but I try to get to sleep before midnight. I go to bed around 10.30pm/11pm and read or listen to something from Radio 4.

20 Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I know I’m mortal and I certainly am not expecting to live forever. One of my uncles, who was a doctor, chose to die at home rather than in a hospital. He stayed at home in his bedroom, surrounded by friends and relatives. He seemed to be very much in control of how he died and I always remember that. It was like witnessing the last movement of a symphony which was given the time to play itself out.

:: Staging Schiele, choreographed by Shobana Jeyasingh, is s at the MAC as part of Belfast International Arts Festival this Saturday. Shobana will also be a keynote speaker at the first all-island dance conference, Co-Motion at the Crescent Arts Centre on the same day. Visit belfastinternationalartsfestival.co.uk or call 028 9024 6609

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