Rise of the fit musician: DJ Tigerlily

In the world of dance music, DJ Tigerlily is one of our most successful musicians. Her success has gone hand in hand with her fitness. Tony Sarno reports.

It’s Halloween, and DJ Tigerlily’s choice of costume for her gig at the Ivy nightclub is kind of funny and sexy at the same time: a leather Playboy Bunny outfit, which she posts to Instagram in a selfie with her partner, who’s dressed as the recently departed Hugh Hefner. From the Instagram post, it’s hard to believe that Tigerlily — real name Dara Hayes — is anything but a model, so spectacular is the pose and outfit.

When she gets to the Ivy, fans treat her like a rockstar, one even proudly lifting his shirt to show a Tigerlily tattoo under his left pec. The show then starts and Tigerlily goes on to completely take over the place, pulling the ecstatic clubbers into the succession of choreographed rises and drops of her electronic dance music. The surprising thing is that none in the crowd are dancing and moving as hard as she is on stage, for the whole show. DJ Tigerlily is fit. Seriously fit.

This is confirmed when we meet Dara up close. She doesn’t look like a typical musician exhibiting the after-effects of her nocturnal job. We can’t spot any pallid skin, bags under the eyes, disassociated pupils, low energy levels or any of the tell-tale signs that would say she’s been working in the febrile atmosphere of dance clubs for the last five years of her life.

Instead her skin glows, her piercing blue eyes interrogate you, and at 10am in the morning at the offices of Universal Music in Sydney, she has infectious energy. She could be a wellness diva.

If you knew her gruelling touring schedule, you’d be even more surprised. Take a recent week. On the Thursday, she left Sydney for Los Angeles to DJ at a 3-day event for sound and audio company JBL, putting in 12-hour days and attending the obligatory after-parties. Then she was on a plane to Europe, where her luggage was lost. With no time to buy new clothes, she went straight from the plane to a Croatian dance club to DJ the sunrise set, from 4:30am to 6:00am, still in her sponsor Adidas’ activewear that she wore on the plane. From there, back to the airport to fly to Italy and play a show the following night. Then back on a plane to Greece for another show.

There’s no doubt that her ability to look after herself in a dance club scene that just begs you to self destruct is one of the reasons Dara’s career is skyrocketing. Quite simply, there is no one else like her on the DJ circuit.

We approached Dara because we wanted to know how she does it, and hopefully take away some secrets for our readers. We weren’t expecting just how much she credits fitness for her success.

First up, Dara pointed out it wasn’t always like this. “I was partying way too much, was eating the wrong foods and wasn’t exercising enough,” she said about her early years as a DJ, some five years ago. “I looked like a more tired, downtrodden version of how I look today.”

Life then was hangover after hangover, party after party, she says. “I was DJing a lot, I was working a lot and travelling a lot. One morning I remember waking up and thinking ‘enough is enough, I’ve got to stop. it’s time to make some changes’.

“I realised that health is everything. You can be rich, you can be famous, you can be popular, you can be flying in private jets and playing to crowds of 50,000 people, but
if you haven’t got your health then you’ve literally got nothing.”

Deciding to look after herself was the best decision she ever made, she says, and it helped at work, too.

“I really started to see my career go off in leaps and bounds. I started to travel more and get bigger shows, started releasing more music and got signed to a label.”

Tigerlily gets fit

First thing Dara did was change her diet: “I went from eating meat and dairy to being completely plant-based, so vegan. I made the change slowly. First, you just take out beef and then you take out pork and chicken, then you’re a pescatarian. I was that for quite a few months and then became vegetarian. It was baby steps.”

Once her nutrition was sorted, Dara experimented with fitness programs to find the one that would work for her.

“When I stopped partying so much I started to wake up feeling good and feeling like
I had energy to do things.”

She says it took her a couple of years to settle on an exercise routine that she enjoyed enough to stick with.

“I think that’s something that young people, or people of any age, need to realise: it might take a couple of months or even years to actually find what you like and find your flow,” she says.

“People expect to wake up and go to the gym and be obsessed with it overnight and that’s just not going to happen.”

The first part of a fitness routine she settled on was yoga, at least four or five sessions a week. “I’m still pretty crappy at it but I’m totally fine where I am on my yoga journey,” she says.

The second part is strength training. “Last year I started training with a new trainer and I said I wanted to be able to do a chin up.

“I could literally not lift myself even a centimetre while hanging. Yesterday I did five chin ups in a row. My aim is 10 and I think I’ll probably be able to do that in a couple of months. Five was hard but once you’ve done five I think getting to 10 is just another step.”

Her personal trainer, Jonathan Bailey, helped her enjoy weight training. “He has completely realigned my body and retaught me how to lift a weight. I feel that, as a woman, lifting weights has really empowered me. It’s made me become so much stronger. It’s made me stand taller. I eat ten times more now because I’m lifting weights, which is awesome.”

And the third part of Dara’s routine is running. Not just any running, but New York Marathon-style running. “I ran the marathon in New York last year for the charity Lifeline. To do something like pushing myself to the absolute limit, running a marathon in support of such an amazing charity, was just phenomenal.“

Oh, we nearly missed the fourth element of her fitness routine: ocean swims. “I have this policy that ocean swims fix everything, so I try and go for ocean swims as regularly as I can. Even if it’s a 2-minute dunk in the ocean pool.”

As Dara was getting fit and healthy, her career also started its upward curve. Her gender made her stand out from the mostly male DJ crowd, and her music got her fans — so much so that celebrated Dutch DJ Tiesto picked her to tour Asia with him, where she played to festivals of 30,000 people.

She also played at the massive Tomorrowland electronic dance festival in Belgium. In 2016 her single Invisible Children hit #1 on the Beatport charts and now, as her music keeps evolving she has released a pop single, called Ashes.

“It’s definitely a move away from the traditional dance music that I’ve been creating. It’s the first time that I’ve really taken over the full artist role and actually sung on the single as well.”

Dara says it’s “super scary” but exciting too, because now’s a great time to be innovating in music.

“The types of genres that DJs are creating and producing are so diverse. You look at someone like David Guetta as a great example. He does an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) track, then a Deep House track, then a collaboration with Justin Bieber and then back to some crazy EDM song.

“We’re in a time where you can just be so creative with what you’re doing and I’m really trying to embrace that.“

It’s definitely Dara’s time, as a musician who, in embracing fitness and health, is finding success without having to play to all the clichés of the music industry.

To get a taste of the celebrity DJ lifestyle, you can find and do Dara’s full workout here

Follow Dara on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat @djtigerlily. For more information, including on her upcoming tours, check out her website and blog at djtigerlily.com.

Photography: Richard Freeman.
Stylist: Jesse Hart
Creative Director: Gino Campagnaro
Hair & Makeup: Steph Lai @ Reload
Dara wears Adidas