Ballet 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."

Ballet Careers
Gray Davis with wife, ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, after his graduation from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Courtesy Trenary.

When Gray Davis retired from American Ballet Theatre in July of 2018, he moved home to South Carolina, unsure of what would come next. Last month, just over a year later, Davis graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today, he's working as a deputy for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office.

Though Davis danced in ABT's corps for 11 years and is married to soloist Cassandra Trenary, to many he's best known for saving the life of a man who was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City in 2017. The heroic effort earned him the New York State Liberty Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by a member of the New York State Senate. We caught up with Davis to hear about how the split second decision he made in the subway affected the course of his life, what it's been like starting a second career and what he sees as the similarities between ballet and law enforcement.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Courtesy LEAP Program

Claire Sheridan wanted to change the status quo. Leading up to the 1990s, she recalls, "there was a 'shut up and dance' mind-set," and as the founder of the dance program at St. Mary's College of California and a longtime teacher in professional companies, she had seen too many dancers retire with no plan for a successful career transition. "At that time, if you thought about education and the future," she says, "you were not a committed dancer. I wanted to fight that."

With the support of St. Mary's, Sheridan developed the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals program, or LEAP, an innovative liberal-arts bachelor's degree program designed especially for professional dancers. She first presented her idea to executives at San Francisco Ballet. "Kudos to that company, because they said, 'This is great,'" she says. "Eleven of the first 18 dancers who started in August 1999 were from SFB."

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Getty Images

I'm a college freshman, and my dance program isn't challenging enough. We only have ballet three times a week and a few hours of modern, and my classmates aren't as dedicated as I am. There's a small dance company nearby, where I was hoping to take extra classes, but I don't have a car. I want to transfer, but I feel like I won't be in good enough shape for auditions. —Tara

Keep reading... Show less