Pointe Stars

How NYCB'S Jenelle Manzi Turned a Food Allergy Into a Growing Baking Blog

Photo courtesy of Manzi.

Bee pollen, cacao nibs, flower buds—you might expect to find these items in a gardener's hands, not a dancer's pantry. Yet if you knew New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi, you wouldn't be surprised by this odd ingredient assortment. She's become known among her NYCB peers for her baked goods; all homemade, dairy-free and gluten-free. What began as a critical health need has blossomed into a growing passion project that includes an Instagram feed full of yummy recipes.

Manzi in Balanchine's 'Symphony in C.' Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.


Though she has always had a penchant for baking, 28-year-old Manzi might not have believed she would one day be whipping up gluten-free batters. Focusing instead on ballet, she began training at her home studio at 4 years old and moved to NYCB's School of American Ballet at 11.

Manzi earned her apprentice contract at just 16 years old and joined the corps a few months later at 17. But by her second year in the company, she was on and off the stage due to two extra bones in her right ankle that had broken off and what doctors thought was a torn tendon. Mysteriously, the inflammation wasn't isolated to one ankle. "I couldn't put my rings on," she remembers. "My pointe shoes wouldn't fit. I didn't get a period. I had gastrointestinal issues."

Manzi sought the help of doctors and nutritionists, who recommended eliminating different food groups to root out the malaise's source. Gluten intolerance emerged as the clear culprit, and Manzi replaced traditional gluten-heavy foods like bread and pasta with substitutes like rice and quinoa. She also minimized dairy and refined sugars and opted for more lean proteins.

via Instagram

The difference, though not an overnight phenomenon, was drastic. By eliminating gluten, Manzi's stomachaches disappeared, the inflammation subsided and her energy levels rose. But she knew that the diet shift could leave her unsatisfied.

Thus, she decided to put her baking skills to work and make her own gluten-and dairy-free foods. She had some basic knowledge from cookbooks and plenty from practice, so the challenge became producing the same delicious tastes and textures from untraditional ingredients. Manzi's kitchen becomes a laboratory when she's concocting new recipes, with plenty of trial and error before reaching a delectable finished product.

via Instagram

With recipes for everything from grain-free truffles and chocolate indulgences to daily snacks like energizing cookie-dough protein balls, Manzi's baking repertoire is as varied as the ballets she loves to perform. And she hopes her recipes will encourage others to opt for more wholesome nutrition—while savoring some sweets along the way.

Fun Facts:
Coffee or tea: "Matcha!"

Dance idol: "Darci Kistler. She's the reason I started dancing! I sent a postcard to her when I was 4 and she wrote back and told me to always follow my dreams."

Healing hack: Wrap a sprain or inflamed joint injury in a compress of French green clay and apple cider vinegar. "It's a tried-and-true trick among us dancers."

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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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