PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIK TANNER
STYLING & WORDS BY ELIZABETH CABRAL
Jenelle Manzi has trained her entire life to be a part of the world-renowned New York City Ballet, and while this highly disciplined career can be all consuming, she realized that her purpose has gone far beyond her identity as a ballet dancer. It lies in the art of inspiring and moving those lucky enough to see her perform the legendary works of George Balanchine. She’s also finding purpose outside of dance. Manzi spent eight years of her career dealing with various injuries and health issues, two of which she was entirely unable to dance. In that time she became fascinated with alternative healing methods. Reading about Chinese traditional medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, adaptogenic herbs and nutritional healing led her to a path of learning and healing of her mind and body. This mind-body awareness has become an essential part of her daily life and fuels her as a ballet dancer and beyond. A by-product of this journey was her newfound love of creating clean superfood recipes. Her dream is to inspire young ballerinas and athletes to embrace the holistic lifestyle and diet that she says saved her. “Maintaining wellness is crucial in my life, especially because a majority of my career is dependent on my mind and body. Over the years, I learned that in order for everything to function at its best, you need to understand that everything works together as a system. It’s ultimately about balance – I eat well, stay active, and listen intently to the signs that my body gives me. “
How do you marry your altruistic pursuits with the world of dance and performance – are they exclusive of each other?
I gain personal fulfillment from having a career that allows me to do what I love every single day, the most compelling part about the world of dance is the ability to speak to an audience and bring them an experience to reflect on. Everyone in the audience, no matter what age or language they speak, is able to draw a conclusion, an impression, or a story from a powerful combination of movement and music – it’s essentially a universal language. Whether the performance serves a method of storytelling, inspiration, or purely escape, I feel so grateful to be able to share a message with people every single night on the stage. It’s perhaps the main reason I do what I do.
“the sole purpose of consuming is to eventually give back something even greater to others, in my case, a memorable performance.”
How do dance and performance connect to the world of style?
Style is an individual choice that is unique to every person. Everyone relates to and is personally drawn to something different – perhaps what makes style such a powerful tool of self expression. The same goes for dance and performance. Beyond a dancer’s technique, it is distinctive characteristics and artistic choices (some voluntary, some involuntary) presented on stage that make a dancer who they truly are. We can ask ourselves the question – why do certain qualities of a dancer speak to certain people and not others? The same question can be asked about style.
How do you feel about “stuff”? What are your most valuable possessions?
I personally get overwhelmed when there is an unnecessary amount of excess. I do believe, among performing arts, Balanchine’s Black and White ballets err on the side of minimalism. Regardless of art genre, I believe that the sole purpose of consuming is to eventually give back something even greater to others, in my case, a memorable performance.
My most valued possessions are items that remind me of a moment or person in my life. Everything else is replaceable. For example, a copper whisking bowl and double boiler that I brought back from Paris when New York City Ballet was on tour there. They bring back memories of dancing on stage with all of my friends and my admiration for the energy and incredible food culture of the city. Another item is a framed piece of notebook paper on which I wrote in the first grade, “I want to dance on toe shoes in the Nutcracker.” This simple statement of my younger self represents so many important layers of my life. From my innate dream to dance, to the incredibly supportive people in my life who helped me along the way (shout out to #1 mom), to the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication it took to get me to where I am now.
What haven’t you done/accomplished yet that you still want to?
I realize that there will come a day when I will no longer be able to dance, especially for a career. While it’s a hard truth to face, it’s reality. My journey hasn’t really been an easy one and it’s certainly not over – I find beauty in the process. If there’s anything that I’ve learned thus far, it is that through some of the darkest times, we gain clarity and appreciation for what’s truly important to us. For me, it is my love for ballet, baking, and wellness. I recently launched a website dedicated to alternative ways to bake energizing snacks and desserts that still feel indulgent. While there are still other sections in the works, I cannot tell you how excited I am to combine my experience as a ballet dancer with my passion for baking with healthful ingredients. With all that I have learned in my pursuit of wellness, health, and strength as a ballet dancer, I will always be on a continuous mission to inspire others. I’m quite confident my next venture is a cookbook!