Soul Sisters

       

Jenelle and Elizabethe Manzi are quite the dynamic duo. We first met Jenelle after discovering her deep love for superfoods, and went on to learn that she is a dancer in the New York City Ballet. She then told us about her sister, Elizabethe, a rocket scientist (seriously!). We were lucky enough to sit down with these talented sisters and shoot them in the dressing room of Lou&Grey on one of Elizabethe’s recent visits to New York. We asked them about what makes them tick, and about what lead them down such remarkable, but different, career paths.

Have you always been surrounded by strong women? Have they been a big influence in your life?

Elizabethe: HUGE YES. We would not be where we are today without the grit, tenacity, and compassion of our mother. She has always selflessly cared for others and guided us along the right path, from driving us to practices, finding the absolute best training for us (located in Manhattan and central NJ, opposite directions), to emotionally supporting us throughout our career development. She is the type of woman that can keep pets alive far beyond their average lifespan, work miracles with the plants and vegetables in our garden, and raise children she is proud of,  the joke has been that she had a green thumb with us too. My grandmother has been a source of culture and energy. Her motto continues to be “life is not a dress rehearsal.” Now in her eighties, she continues to travel the world (she just returned from travels through South America), go dancing at night, and create artwork. Sometimes I think she has more fun than I do. Going to any art museum in the world with her is like having a tour guide, I swear she knows everything.

Jenelle: Yes! This question could not be more fitting. Over the years, it has been amazing to see three generations of women come together on that sort of level. Our grandmother and her two daughters (my mother and aunt), and now my sister and I all have this unbelievable bond based on love, support, and encouragement to explore the world with our own dreams. From a very young age, Elizabethe and I were constantly exposed to nature, culture, and the arts. Whether it was learning how to sketch with charcoal from our grandmother, or being taken to the park by our mother to make little boats out of sticks and leaves to sail down the water, we were always stimulated in creative ways. As we started to grow up, our mother began to guide this whole magical journey for the two of us. She listened to our dreams and researched the best possible way to make it all happen. To her, it did not matter that she spent over 4 hours a day driving my sister and I to our respective training destinations, while also working in between, she saw how passionate my sister and I were about our goals and did everything in her power to fuel that. She is the most selfless and intuitive person I know and I could not feel more grateful for everything she has done to get my sister and I to where we are now.

You both do such remarkable things in such vastly different fields, did you always want to become a ballerina and rocket scientist?

Elizabethe: I’ve always had a serious passion for space exploration. Since I was a young girl, I was fascinated by astronauts, extra-terrestrial life, what planets humans could inhabit, what was beyond the universe. My favorite movie at age five was Mars Attacks! (pretty weird for a little girl) and I was an alien for Halloween from the first to the fifth grade (yes, every single year). I believe it is one of the highest missions of humanity to explore the universe and how we fit into it. I’ve also always loved art, architecture, and drawing. I never really had to take an art class to figure out sketching, adding value, or perspectives. Combined with a knack for math and science, I decided on civil/structural engineering in college, with the hopes of balancing aesthetics and functionality in the built environment. My mother came from a fashion design background while my father works in aerospace, I sometimes feel like I got a little bit of both. When I discovered SpaceX, there was suddenly a way I could merge all of these passions. The path was neither expected nor planned, yet I couldn’t be happier about how it turned out.

Jenelle: My parents say that as soon as I could walk, I was always on my toes wearing some sort of tutu making them take pictures and videos of me dancing around the house, all my recent rummaging through home videos proves that it’s all true! I guess you could say the official dreaming started when I was four years old, when my grandmother took me to see New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker. It immediately opened my eyes to this beautiful other world and I fell in love with the art and the overall experience of seeing a live performance on such a grand scale. At the time, I wrote (probably scribbled) to Darci Kistler (the Sugarplum Fairy and my soon-to-be idol), a letter about how much I loved her performance. She ended up writing back with a postcard telling me to always follow my dreams. That postcard still serves as an important reminder for me to never stop working and never stop dreaming. Who knew that after countless years of determined training that I would end up on the very same stage. It was not an easy road, but I couldn’t be more happy to have achieved this dream of mine.

You’re so different, but so close, what connects you? And what keeps you so connected?

Elizabethe: We have always been very close growing up. I admired her as my older sister and wanted to be like her (minus the pink tutu). She was the girly-girl and I was more of the tomboy,  she’d help me with my hair and makeup, I’d protect her from the monsters hiding in the basement. Today, I think our differences make us get along better and see things from different perspectives. We balance each other out. Jenelle’s advice usually opens my eyes to something I didn’t think of at all, and vice versa. Jenelle’s career path also showed me that anything is possible to achieve. Growing up and seeing her get an apprenticeship with NYCB, after pursuing this dream since before she could speak, my dreams suddenly became realistic. We’re also both a bunch a goofballs.

Jenelle: It is pretty funny to look at how insanely different we are and how close we have always been, I have always loved her deeply. When we were little, I was always prancing around in something pink while Elizabethe was always in a random corner of the house playing with some sort of bug or reptile toy (yes, her favorite toy was a Godzilla that had red blinking eyes and steamed at the mouth). Her quirkiness was pretty amazing, I have the biggest grin just thinking about all of this! With that said, I think we established an unbreakable bond when we were very young because we did everything together. As the big sister, I felt like it was my duty to take her under my wing and guide her. Now that we’ve grown up and taken respectively very different paths, we are both constantly inspiring and encouraging one another to keep pushing towards our goals. Outside of our careers, we are each other’s rock and best friend. While our brains work in different ways, it makes for the best kind of advice because I can see things that she can’t and vice versa. There are times when our chats get pretty intense, but we always know it’s purely because the other person cares. Gotta keep each other in line! or maybe we keep each other grounded?

You live on opposite coasts, how do you maintain such a close relationship?

Elizabethe: Texts, FaceTime calls, silly photos back and forth. With today’s technology, the world seems a lot smaller. We also visit each other a few times a year. I think I miss New York as much as Jenelle enjoys Los Angeles, so it works out perfectly. It also helps that I live right near some of her favorite spots, Moon Juice and Cafe Gratitude. Perhaps she’s not coming just to see me? It might be the gluten-free Moon Juice cinnamon rolls. Just kidding

Jenelle: The iPhone is wonderful thing, that’s all I can say. My sister and I text, FaceTime, and send each other an abundance of goofy photos (definitely one of my favorite things to do) throughout the week. I can tell Elizabethe misses New York (phew, her wardrobe is still all black) and I love LA so it’s great that we can visit each other throughout the year. Without fail, every time she comes she loves to drag me to shop around in Soho. In LA, I drag her to Cafe Gratitude (yes, sometimes three nights in a row) and Moon Juice, it’s a wonderful little arrangement we’ve got. Haha.

What are three things you admire about the other person?

Elizabethe: I admire Jenelle’s attention to detail, body awareness, and response to adversity. Jenelle has incredible taste when it comes to fashion, interior design, and food. She pays attention to the small details that make an item or an experience memorable and special. She is also very conscious of her health and wellness, necessary to fuel her body for a very physically demanding career. Seeing her pantry and the creations she can make from raw ingredients shows her intent to maximize her potential in and out of ballet. I ask her a million questions, “what is Chaga for? What are Tocotrienols? Why do you take Turmeric?” The list goes on, but she has definitely done her homework. Lastly, through multiple injuries and surgeries in her career, she has emerged from each stronger. There was no giving up. Looking back, perhaps these unfortunate events are to thank for the relentless, strong woman she is today.

Jenelle: My sister amazes me on all levels and I could not feel more proud, but if I have to pick I would say her drive, her analytical brain, and her witty sense of humor. Elizabethe is infamous for her hand drawn life flowcharts, (she might kill me for spilling this) which map out the various possible scenarios based on the career decisions that she decides to make. It seems to have worked out quite well for her thus far. Her brain is a whole other story, I will never understand it.  Elizabethe’s got one of those minds that works doubletime and I often refer to her as my little genius. I think what’s even more incredible is how humble she is about it (but I’m her proud sister so I can brag for her)! I do think that the most unassuming quality of hers is her sense of humor which comes out of absolute nowhere sometimes. It’s this wildly funny and witty side of her that only the people that are close to her get to see. I feel very lucky.

You both seem to have superhuman skills, what skill would you take from your sister?

Elizabethe: I can’t decide if I want to do one graceful pirouette on pointe (360 degrees, that’s all I ask!), or be able to remember the choreography for just one ballet from start to finish!

Jenelle: Aside from Elizabethe’s insanely quick and calculating brain (it’s unreal), she has an incredible talent for sketching. It was a talent and an eye that she’s had since she was little. I always look at her architecture design sketches and wonder what it’s like to take a pencil to paper and make everything look so incredibly beautiful.

What values did you learn growing up that got you to such success?

Elizabethe: Mom led a tight ship growing up, and I mean that in the best way possible. She did not push us too hard or make us continue with a hobby we didn’t enjoy. All she asked is if we do something, we give 100%. For me, whether that was ballet, soccer, violin, to finally gymnastics, our parents instilled in us this focus and drive. Once we found our passions, the effort was there. There was also a huge emphasis on the value of education in our household. If we could not keep up with our sports and our grades, we would lose the sport we loved, so we stayed on track. Our mother also always said to “leave things exactly how you found them.” An avid protector of nature, we were taught to respect the environment and live with as little impact as possible.

Jenelle: You could say that our parents were a bit strict, but I think it was more that there was a mutual understanding for what was expected of us, hard work towards a goal that we were passionate about. As children, Elizabethe and I were constantly introduced to new activities to see where our little hearts wanted to take us. Our mother was so in tune and could tell when the desire was there and when it wasn’t. With that said, the importance of education and maintaining good grades came without question. Looking back, my sister and I would not be where we are today without the push and guidance of our incredible parents, who taught us to never give up no matter how hard things get.

Elizabethe, how do you stay focused? And Jenelle, how do you stay energized?

Elizabethe: I stay focused thinking of the end goal. I am passionate about my company’s mission and I thoroughly enjoy the work I do, so sometimes work doesn’t feel like “work.” I also can weirdly tune out my environment, my mother would laugh when I was a kid that I could sit in a room full of noise and draw something, or finish math homework. This skill became helpful competing in gymnastics.

I also drink a sizeable amount of espresso.

Jenelle: Ultimately, I stay energized through my passion for my career. However, there have been times that this was difficult to achieve, or feel?. Throughout my ballet career, I spent years dealing with allergies and various injuries that never seemed to go away. About 4 years ago, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I found the most success in changing my lifestyle and my diet, with the help from various people in the holistic wellness world (you could say that these women and the world they introduced me to changed my life). Being a professional ballet dancer, this awareness has become an essential part of my daily life and it is exactly what fuels me. It also led me to a new creative outlet and passion of mine, which is making clean superfood snacks and treats that keep me fed and energized throughout my physically demanding day. One day, my dream is to be able to inspire young ballerinas and athletes to embrace this sort of lifestyle and way of eating because it honestly saved me.

What feeds your determination? What are your daily habits?

Elizabethe: Sleep and exercise. I go to sleep quite early compared to most, especially because I start work around 6 AM each day for construction hours. I notice a big difference in my energy and outlook if I don’t make it a priority. I also need to exercise. Whenever I am stressed or feeling “in a funk,” my mom or sister’s first question is, “have you gone to the gym?” If the answer is no, one trip usually cures all! Sometimes, when I feel like I just don’t have the time to hit the gym, a good sweat is exactly what I need. I also strictly abide by the apple-a-day policy. Sometimes two. Sometimes three.

Jenelle: In all honesty, I’m constantly driven by life itself and the wondrous twists, turns and opportunities it brings. I dedicate my life to my art and my passion to inspire other people (particularly young dancers) to never give up on their dreams, despite how discouraging things may seem at times. I love what I do and put my entire being into it, but I have also learned how important it is to have a balance. Embracing a more holistic kind of lifestyle has changed my performance and outlook; I hope one day to pay it forward and help others find that balance.

Being a ballerina and true Capricorn, I live a pretty regimented lifestyle, especially during our ballet seasons. These can get pretty exhausting if you do not follow some sort of wellness routine (we perform 6 nights a week). Ever since I was a little girl, my happy place has either been in the bathtub (yes, I take one every morning) or in the kitchen baking something. I always wake up early in the morning so that I have time to clear my head and set myself up for the day. This includes starting the day with some sort of tea or herbal tonic and a healthy alchemized treat that I’ve baked. At night after I get home from performing, I have a similar wind-down routine with another alchemized snack and hot tonic that I enjoy while I sew pointe shoes for the following day. I also make it a priority to do a face mask at least once a week (May Lindstrom’s Problem Solver has seriously saved me from stage makeup)!

 

 

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