Meet Dito van Reiserberg – also known as – Martha Graham Cracker

Posted on: April 21st, 2017 by manna

We are so excited to have Martha Graham Cracker returning to the Forrest Theatre stage as host for Shut Up & Dance for the second year in a row. Dito van Reiserberg, the genius behind Martha, sat down to share some of his memories and insights of the evening. 



Favorite Memory

One year we did “Cold Hearted Snake” by Paula Abdul. If you haven’t seen the music video, you should. We had either a ladder or an actual scaffolding. And there are all these dancers, taking their shirt off and writhing on this enormous scaffolding. It’s very funny. And sexy.

Another year I did “Tiny Dancer” with Abby Mentzer.  And I’m tall – you know, especially in my heels I’m about 6’7. And she’s not a very tall dancer. There’s a part in Tiny Dancer that goes “tiny dancer in my hand,” and so I put out my hand and she put her little toe shoe into my hand. It was very fun.


How did you get involved?

My boyfriend is Matthew Neenan, Choreographer in Residence, who was part of Pennsylvania Ballet. And so I know the Pennsylvania Ballet crowd through him. He was part of some of the very early Shut Up & Dances. And that gave him his very first choreographic opportunity. Now that’s what he does for a living! In terms of something that creates an unintended result, a lot of dancers test the waters choreographers. And Matthew he did it several years in a row. We were like – you actually know how to choreograph! You should do it! And then he did it. I don’t know that he would be where is he is right now without Shut Up & Dance.

Nic Stuccio, who founded Fringe Arts, he was one of the co-founders. I want to say that Shut Up & Dance was a thing that allowed him to begin to cut his teeth organizationally as well. That created an impact allowing him to go off and make the Fringe Festival. So Shut Up & Dance has created a lot of opportunities, and has had an enormous impact.

When Michaela Majoun wanted to pass on the [Shut Up & Dance Host] torch, they were like – you like to talk and be ridiculous in front of people. Why don’t you do it? And so I said “okay!” You really can’t argue with the worthiness of the cause.


Could you describe Shut Up & Dance for those who have never been?

The evening has funny dances – the opening number is usually really ridiculous, and might have something to do with current events. But then there are pieces that are quite serious, or comedic, or uncategorizable. But they’re all new pieces of dance.

The tradition is the last dance before the ending is the Dying Swan. Which is a tribute to those we’ve lost, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch a ballerina do. It says ‘this is the heart of the ballet community giving itself to this worthy cause.’ So I feel that no matter how fun or ridiculous or goofy the evening is, there’s always an underlying thread of ‘let’s remember why we’re all here.’ It’s really moving.

Ask a Dietitian: Cooking Oils

Posted on: April 18th, 2017 by manna

Q: What’s the healthiest oil to use for high heat cooking, like for pan frying, wok cooking or under a broiler?


MANNA Registered Dietitian: What a great question! But before I give you the actual answer… I will break it down as to why certain oils are the healthiest and best to use for occasions of high heat cooking. This is because different types of oils, which are also called ‘fats’ have different heating and cooking temperatures.

There are generally 4 different types of fats/oils:

Types of Fats Sources of Oils Health Effects



Hydrogenated Vegetable oil




Raises laboratory values, such as LDL (bad cholesterol)

Lowers HDL (good cholesterol)

-Increases risk of heart disease & stroke






Animal sources:



Animal fats & bi-products

Plant based sources:

Coconut oil

Palm & Palm kernel oil




Raises Total Cholesterol & LDL (bad cholesterol)


-Primarily from animal sources

-Solid at room temperature






Olive oil

Canola oil

Peanut oil

Avocado oil

Walnut oil



-Plant based source

Lowers lab values such as Total Cholesterol, Triglycerides, and LDL

-Liquid at room temperature, solid when chilled





Soybean oil

Corn oil

Canola oil

Sunflower oil

Safflower oil

Flaxseed oil


Lowers LDL (bad cholesterol)

Raises HDL (good cholesterol)


The healthiest oils are those that are high in MUFA and PUFA, such as olive oil and safflower oil. These types of fats can help lower your risk of heart disease when used in place of SFA and TFA. Replacing your cooking oils that are high in SFA with MUFA or PUFA oils can help lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles.

In regards to cooking with oils/fats, not all are the same, just as they are different structurally. When cooking with oil there is something called a “Smoke Point.” A smoke point is when the oil reaches a heated temperature and it will start to produce smoke and even combust. The nutrients in the oil break down from the high heat, creating a rancid smell and darker color.





To answer the question- healthiest oil for HIGH heat cooking is ….

Heat Range Temperature Range Oils
Low Heat 200° – 300° Flaxseed oil

Walnut oil

Extra Virgin Olive oil


Medium Heat 300° – 400°  

Olive oil

Canola oil

Corn oil


High Heat 400° – 500°  


Sunflower oil

Safflower oil

Soybean oil

Peanut oil

Sesame oil





BUT, remember- Fat is Fat! All fats are 9 calories per gram. So, 1 tablespoon is a serving size of oil, (which looks like a half-dollar or poker chip size in a pan) is equivalent to 14.3 grams.

14.3g x 9 kcals/g = 128 calories per 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. Though, fat is necessary and needed in a healthy diet, all fats/oil should be used in moderation.

– Brittany McCauley, RD, LDN

Meet Harrison Monaco

Posted on: April 5th, 2017 by manna


Harrison Monaco

Dancer & Choreographer

5th year performing in Shut Up & Dance 

Photograph © Vikki Sloviter

Favorite Memory 


“I really love the moment when we’re doing dress rehearsals, and all the tech prep, and we’re on stage for the first time doing all this new choreography. Then afterwards we all get a lovely lunch served by MANNA. Which is the best food ever. We all sit around underneath the stage and it’s a bonding moment. And then we all go and get our makeup done by MAC, and that preparation makes us feel special and is bonding time as well.”

Recipe of the Month: Bruschetta

Posted on: April 4th, 2017 by manna

Fresh Tomato Day is April 6th!

Enjoy fresh and flavorful tomatoes with this quick and easy bruschetta recipe:


• 4 ripe tomatoes

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• ¼ onion, chopped

• 4 fresh basil leaves, chopped

• 1 tbsp. Olive oil

• Salt and pepper to taste

• ½ loaf of French bread (or bread of choice) Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all of the ingredients (except the bread) in a bowl. Slice bread and bake for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove bread from oven, let it cool, and serve tomato mixture on bread.


Ask a Dietitian: Frozen v. Fresh Vegetables

Posted on: April 4th, 2017 by manna


Q: How does the nutritional value of frozen, canned, and fresh vegetables compare to each other?

MANNA Registered Dietitian: Vegetables are primarily available in 3 ways of purchasing. The nutritional value of frozen, canned, and fresh vegetables are very similar yet mildly different, yet there are pros and cons to each type of vegetable for purchasing. Ultimately it depends on your lifestyle when it comes to storing, preparing, and cooking meals. It is recommend to eat 2-3 cups of vegetables a day.

Vegetables Pros Cons
Fresh -Full of vitamin & minerals 

-Versatile in cooking & preparing

-Perishable & short shelf life





-Harvested fresh & flash frozen to preserve nutrients

-Easy to cook and prepare

-Store up to 6 mo. in freezer

-Less waste compared to fresh



-Vegetables with a high water content do not freeze well & are not available for purchase

-Some frozen varieties are packed with a seasoning mix or sauce that  contains extra calories & sodium

-Texture change



-Pasteurized for a longer shelf life

-Easy to cook & prepare

-Cheaper in price

-Allows the availability to consume veggies all year long


-Contains added Salt & Sodium for preserving

-Heat from pasteurization may decrease vitamin & mineral content

– Texture & flavor change


If you have been told by a Doctor or Registered Dietitian that you need to watch your salt or sodium intake, then frozen or fresh vegetables may be a better option for you.

*Tip: To reduce the sodium content of canned vegetables, drain the liquid from the inside of the can and rinse the vegetables with water. Or look for ‘low-sodium’ versions.

Frozen vegetables are becoming more popular because of their freezer shelf life and ease of cooking by steaming in the microwave.

*Tip: Add fresh or frozen vegetables such as broccoli florets into a microwave safe bowl with lid and cook for 3 minutes for perfectly steamed veggies for you next meal.

Purchase fresh vegetables in season or in bulk quantities. When vegetables are in season, they are cost efficient and last longer. If you purchase vegetables in bulk you can always freeze or can fresh veggies at home using the food safe techniques for them to last longer.

Vegetables come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and ways to purchase them. And if you are feeling up to it, you can always grow your own! Overall, it does not matter how you have them, it is best to always eat your veggies!


Want your nutrition question answered on the MANNA blog? E-mail to receive personalized nutrition advice while also sharing that information with others! If you have the question, someone else is probably wondering too. 

Ask a Dietitian: Proteins

Posted on: April 4th, 2017 by manna

Question: Are there health differences between plant-based proteins and animal-based proteins?

MANNA RD: Before I go into detail about the differences between animal and plant proteins, it is important to understand the role of protein in the body.
Most of our muscles, organs, and cells in the body are made up of protein. One of the many important roles of protein is to support, build, and repair body tissues. They also provide the body with energy and build up our immune system.
There are some individuals that argue that a protein is a protein no matter what the source, while others beg to differ. Animal proteins are similar to those that are found in the human body, and also considered complete proteins.
This means that they contain all the essential amino acids our body needs to function. Even though they contain all the essential amino acids, animal proteins can also contain higher amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, which are contributing factors to heart disease when consumed in high amounts over a long period of time.
Plant-based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains contain protein as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Even though they are good sources of protein, they do not contain as much as their animal counterparts.
For example, 3oz of chicken breast contains 21g of protein and 3oz of tofu contains only 7g. Since they also offer less g of protein per serving, not all plant based proteins offer all the essential amino acids that animal proteins do.
Balance is key in the equation of plant vs animal based proteins. If you consume animal proteins, choose seafood and lean cuts of meat as your protein source and try to balance your weekly intake with some plant-based sources. If you consume mostly plant based proteins, make sure to combine with whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat bread to make sure you are getting all the essential amino acids your body needs. 
If you want to submit a question for our dietitians, please email Maris at or send us a message on Facebook! 

Meet James Ihde

Posted on: March 31st, 2017 by manna

James Ihde


23rd year performing in Shut Up & Dance 

25th year attending Shut Up & Dance


Photograph © Vikki Sloviter


Funny Memory 

We did a piece, maybe six or seven years ago, that Brian Sanders choreographed and Tara Keating performed. She was in this big, plastic blow up ball, and I was on stage behind her holding the ball so it wouldn’t move. She was supposed to do a solo in it, cut her way out of it, and then dance again.

She was in there, and it came time to get out, and she couldn’t get out! She was cutting the ball spastically and fighting her way out… and at the last second made it!  After she got out she did her thing, and everything was okay. But I’d say that’s something that doesn’t happen everywhere!

Needless to say, they performed that idea that night and never did it again.”



“Motivation [for the dancers] comes from wanting to help out and contribute, as well as people who really want an opportunity to choreograph on their friends and dancers they really admire. Maybe they get the opportunity to do a solo or something they might not have done otherwise.

People do humorous pieces as well, things that are really far off the beaten path that they might not get a chance to do any other time!”



“Shut Up & Dance was very small the first couple years, not raising much money. A very small, homegrown event. Then, for years it was strictly dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet, choreographing on each other, maybe bringing back old pieces. And then over the years it developed into bringing on other local dancers, other choreographers, special guests, and bands.

So that side of the crew has evolved and the sheer size of the show has quintupled.

After the show you see how much money you raised and what a great cause it is and how much that money actually helps real, every day people in such a practical way. It’s a great thing for us to be involved in.”

Volunteers Weigh in on MANNA’s Last Weeks at Ranstead Street

Posted on: March 30th, 2017 by manna

MANNA was founded in 1990 by seven volunteers from the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia who threw all of their energy into creating a system of meal delivery to individuals dying of HIV/AIDS. We are so fortunate to function to this day as an organization fueled by the passion and generosity of neighbors who want to give back. Some of MANNA’s volunteers have been helping in our kitchens regularly for many, many years. This week, some of our long returning volunteer crews reflected with us on their experiences at our Ranstead Street location as a way to mark the transition to our brand new facility on 420 North 20th Street. 

The best part about volunteering regularly at MANNA is finding your ‘crew.’ With many folks volunteering regularly on the same day each week, weekly hangouts blossom into years of friendship. Sometimes the day of the week you land on is due to previous ties, but more often it’s happenstance. A serendipitous journey of community, friendship, and good work. 



The Thursday Crew 

The Thursday crew has been coming for many years, some for longer than others. Many of them are tied in one way or another to Claire Toy, a force of nature at MANNA who has pulled so many together, into the kitchen, into a community, for more than two decades. 

Jan: “It’ll be sad to leave [the Ranstead location], because this is this spot, you know? But it’ll be good to go to a new spot. 

Harriet: It’s so comforting to be here. It’s the sense of community between the volunteers and with the staff. And although we don’t always get to meet the clients, they’re sort of here, in the room, in a silent way. You really get the feeling that we’re all working together on something important.” 

Stelle: “I’ve been coming to MANNA for thirteen years, and I’ve been telling Harriet – who’s new – volunteers are so appreciated here. And that’s something she’s already experienced in the short time she’s been coming.

In these past thirteen years, I’ve made real friends. Not just colleagues working here. There are some of us that see each other now outside of MANNA. We always discuss politics, movies, books, as we chop and cook. That’s been a real plus, too.”

Jan: What always impressed me with some of the volunteers who are students, or have full time jobs, is that they’ll come here on their days off. I never did that on my day off!! We know someone who came on her lunch break! I think it’s just a remarkable thing that people are so invested in volunteering. 

Stelle: Jan and I started coming together when we retired from the school district – we worked together. Then we brought a friend or two, and the rest just sort of happened! 

Lou came with his daughter at the same time, and now they volunteer every Thursday together as well. 

Harriet: It’s like it’s hard wired at MANNA to be appreciative. You just feel it. Everyone is always so friendly. When you walk in in the morning there’s always staff saying hello, asking how you are, remembering your name. 

Stelle: Another thing that makes it really interesting is that you volunteer here with people from all walks of life. One week you might be working next to a doctor, and the next week you might be working with someone who’s here on community service with the court system. 

Henrietta: Stelle, my neighbor, brought me here a couple of years ago. She had helped me through a hard illness and brought me here because I wanted to give back, and had nowhere to go. 

What I’ll remember about this place is probably all the same things I’ll take to the new place. Everyone is so kind, we laugh a lot, we get a lot of work done. It just makes you feel good. So if we can feel good in a new, shiny place… I’m all for it! 

As long as they take the popcorn, I’m good, because that’s the only reason we come! Just kidding. We kid around and say that because the popcorn is so good. 

Funny Memories

Thursday Crew: We do a lot of baking. One time, we were doing brownies… and of course these things only happen when someone walks by who’s in charge, like Keith (Head Chef). So we’re unwrapping our twenty pounds of butter and putting it in the blender, and we turn it on – again, we’re new. We had not first checked that the bowl was sitting where it was supposed to… and the butter went flying and the bowl was all over the place, and we were trying to stop it and panicking at the same time! [Laughing] We’ll never forget that. 



The Friday Crew 

Eve: I’ve been volunteering here for about 10 years. I remember when I first started, and coming into a kitchen full of people singing show tunes, thinking it was just a little too crazy for me. But I very quickly adapted and learned to love it. And it’s been a wonderful part of my life every Friday morning, coming to MANNA.

It’s really the Friday Morning Crew that keeps me coming back to MANNA. It’s just been wonderful. I’ve made great friends here, and it’s just been a wonderful thing. 

George: I’ve gotten volunteer of the month, and last year I got the silver spoon award; it made me feel tremendous. It’s been great fun, meeting all the different people. It gives me something to do, instead of sitting at home and doing nothing! This way I can help people out. And that’s even better. I come three days a week, and I’ve been coming for almost seven years – I started after I retired. The people and the work keep me coming back! 

Dominic: I started volunteering with MANNA the year after they started… I’ve been with MANNA for more than 25 years. When I first started we had nothing but volunteers. And something like 40 clients. And then when we got to one hundred clients it was a big thing. And look how far we are now!!

You get some wonderful people here. It changed my whole life. It gives me a purpose in life, to go out and do things. I’m not sitting home in a rocking chair. And working with young people! I love being around young people. I don’t want to just be around people my age! 

I volunteer Mondays and Fridays. The best part is all of the friends I’ve met here over the years. We became friends, and stayed friends. In fact, a group of us, about ten years ago, we rented a villa outside of Florence for three weeks. And it was all the nice people I met here. I’ve known Eve for 25 years. I would never have met most of these people otherwise. 

Ed Lyons: It’s different every day, and I’ve been doing it for 16 years!


Meet Alexandra Hughes

Posted on: March 24th, 2017 by manna

Last week, we learned about Producing Director Ian Hussey’s story and how he found his way to Shut Up & Dance. This week, we meet Assistant Producer Alexandra Hughes, coming up on her 7th year with the show!


Alexandra Hughes

Assistant Producer

7th Shut Up & Dance 


Favorite memory?

“My favorite Shut Up & Dance moment was in 2013 when we did a Showgirls theme. We ended up doing a full opening and closing number, and a little intermediary fun piece, and I ended up being the girl called ‘MANNA.’ It was just the electricity from the audience. It made everything so fun.”

Funny memory?

“Last year I was injured during Shut Up & Dance, so with my fractured boot on, I stood on the speakers and mimed the ‘walk like an Egyptian’ song and pulled red ribbon out of Ian who had just been stabbed. That was pretty funny. That was a good moment.”


 Photograph by Vikki Sloviter

Ian Hussey’s Story

Posted on: March 17th, 2017 by manna

Ian Hussey, Shut Up & Dance Producing Director

The 25th anniversary of Shut Up & Dance will be Ian Hussey’s fourteenth year performing in it. Now in his sixth year as the producing director, Ian still thinks of Shut Up as “one of the most wonderful nights of [his] life, every single year.”

Shut Up & Dance has always held an element of wonder. Maybe that’s why it has continued to thrive, enchanting Philadelphians for two and a half decades, growing up alongside MANNA. What started as a small family and friends affair has evolved into a well-known, highly-attended performance at the Forrest Theatre, just as MANNA has grown from a grass-roots initiative in a church basement to a nutrition-based nonprofit establishing itself as a thought leader.

Ian recently took the time to tell us a little about his Shut Up & Dance story.


 Photograph by Vikki Sloviter


The Beginning

When Ian was growing up in Philadelphia, he would see posters around town for a dancer-curated performance called “Shut Up & Dance.” While the posters sparked his familiarity with the burgeoning show, he never had the opportunity to attend. Fortunately, he later ended up joining the Pennsylvania Ballet and was introduced to the reward of dancing for this annual tradition of collaboration with MANNA.

As a young dancer in the company, Shut Up was a great opportunity to get out there and take on more central roles. But quickly, it came to mean much more. MANNA’s community-centric model, rooted in compassion, resonated deeply with Ian. The opportunity to contribute to MANNA’s mission through his life’s art was an unparalleled experience. The fulfillment he found in this benefit performance, a show with a more raw and boundless format, was enough to ensure he stuck with it for years. 

As Ian said, “I think being a dancer and being able to put on a show like this, one that not only brings so much joy to the MANNA family but also the dance community, is amazing. MANNA does such important, good work for our community and contributing to that is an opportunity most of us [dancers] don’t ever really get a chance to do. And we get to do it every year! It’s incredibly rewarding.”


The Preparation & Excitement

Because Shut Up is a voluntary project for the dancers, preparation time for the performance is found in-between practice for other shows with the Pennsylvania ballet. Dancers squeeze rehearsal time into treasured morsels of spare minutes and whenever a studio is open – lunch hours, after hours, breaks. When the week of the show arrives, the final bursts of adrenaline really kick in.

While it can be stressful, this is an aspect of the show that makes it so unique for the dancers. Ian explained the consensus among his colleagues is that performing for Shut Up is ‘a roller-coaster of emotions,’ a babbling stream of nervous electricity and delightful anticipation.

For Ian, one of his favorite parts of the show is “the journey of the whole thing culminating backstage. Everyone is back there, watching each other and supporting one another and all of the nerves and excitement and energy of the show is something you can really feel when you’re on stage, off stage, and the audience is making noise. All of the memories are pretty amazing.” 

The space for creativity within the show is what makes it unique for the dancers and audience alike. Ian explained, “People love Shut Up and Dance because they have no idea what the heck they got themselves into, no idea what’s about to happen. You walk in, and the theatre is a little stripped down, and the dancers are warming up on stage, and there’s this energy of, ‘this is about to happen.’”  


The Embarrassing/Funny Moments

Ian remembers one show in particular, before he was the director, when he was playing a secret service agent. He had on pants with buttons so he could rip them off and run across the stage in little green booty shorts. The plan was that once he ripped off the pants, all the dancers would come on stage and fly away in a sort of jazz run.

Except, after Ian ripped off the pants, things quickly went awry. As he remembers, “I don’t know what happened, but I had a total spazz moment. I ended up doing the jazz runs but with the same arm and leg, flying down… and then my glasses were falling off! So I’m the central person doing all of these moves and I’m an utter disaster. It was a disgrace to dance everywhere.”

The jazz runs may have descended into chaos, but it didn’t matter. Because Ian wasn’t performing to refine his reputation, but to contribute to MANNA and the community. If the audience was laughing and enjoying themselves, it was a success.


The Evolution

When recalling the epic odyssey of Shut Up, Ian said, “I’ve seen Shut Up & Dance grow up and mature a lot. It will and should always be the grassroots of the dancers of the PA ballet choreographing the night. But now we’re bringing in other companies from the Philadelphia area and having that be part of the show. Beyond ballet dancers we have had exciting acts – acrobatic acts, tap dancers, cabaret.”

“And now we are taking it in a totally new direction with Martha Graham Cracker. I think with her, moving forward the show will hopefully grow bigger and bigger. Every year we have to do crazier things. Where do you go from crazy? You just go crazier.”


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420 North 20th Street
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