today i taught my first ever nutcracker workshop, at new chicago dance studio. eight excited students, boys and girls age five to twelve or so, many decked out in tutus and other “fancy” dance gear, spent the afternoon learning the “ballerina doll” and “toy soldier” dances from act 1 of the ballet.
at the same time, my former colleagues at repertory dance theatre were offering their first public performance of the holiday classic at symphony hall in allentown, pa. it has been three years since my last nutcracker performance – the longest i’ve been away from the ballet since age 12. at the time of my departure from the company, i remember rather gleefully thinking: no more nutcrackers! no more 8:30am school performances! no more stressing about being in “tutu shape” all autumn long! no more agonizing over the pirouettes in the marizipan solo! no more tearing my hair out at when i hear “waltz of the flowers” in the mall! no more finding paper “snowflakes” in my dance bag in july!
however, watching the students this afternoon, so taken by the magic of the nutcracker, i remembered the joy it had brought me for so many years … my first on-stage solo, at age 12 as clara in a local production; the coolness i felt leaving high school early to perform with american repertory ballet; my dad’s proud smile as he handed me roses after the show; joking around with fellow dancers and crew during the warm-up classes; that moment in the finale when you get so caught up in the powerful music and swirling costumes that you forget how much pain you are in; the tingle in your toes when the first notes of the sugar plum fairy’s solo are struck.
it was during the nutcracker: studio rehearsals, backstage, and most especially on-stage, that i felt most at home in my awkward teenage years. it was during the nutcracker that i bonded most fully with people who would become dear friends for life. it was during the nutcracker that i realized the sacrifices: the lack of pay, the blistered feet, the shin splints, the bad back, the long weekends, the early mornings – it was all worth it.
and today, looking at the smiling faces of those young dancers, so full of promise, so full of joy, i realized it all over again.