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Dancing through the holidays

December 05, 2006|by LAURA BELL

What do most people think of when you say Christmas? Tinsel, presents, singing, a guy in a big red suit?

That's most people; as for me, the first thing that comes to mind is the ballet, but not just any ballet: "The Nutcracker."

Based on the story by E.T.A. Hoffman and set to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, this ballet is a Christmas tradition. "The Nutcracker" is about a young girl who dreams, on Christmas Eve, of a journey in a kind of candy land. She travels with a life-size version of her Christmas gift - a German-style nutcracker doll. They encounter the evil Mouse King and win a fight against him and his troops.

Every year, The Potomac Classical Youth Ballet in Hagerstown performs this ballet for the community with almost 100 dancers ranging in age from 3 or 4 to adult. I have seen more than 20 different Nutcrackers at the Potomac Classical Youth Ballet and at my older sister's college. They are all the same story and the same music. However, the choreography is different in each. Each interpretation is unique and interesting.

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To be in the PCYB's "Nutcracker," a ballerina has to work very hard. My sister, Jenny Bell, is a longtime ballerina of the PCYB. She is a soloist in this year's performance. Practice, she says, is important.

"Practice, practice, practice - about eight hours on weekends and time on your own, whenever you

have a chance," Jenny says.

Most dancers have more than one role in "The Nutcracker" and each re-hearsal requires hours of practice for each role. In preparation for the final show, the stress of the dancers also builds up.

"I have to balance everything - school, rehearsal - and remain sane," she says. "I might be in technique class or at rehearsal and suddenly I'll be thinking of all the calculus (homework) I have left to do."

As a sister of two ballerinas (my oldest sister, Emily, was in "The Nutcracker" when she was younger) I can attest to this. Around October, when the rehearsals start, my sisters get busy. They are always moving - going to rehearsals or classes, practicing pirouettes and arabesques in the living room at home.

Add all of that to a normal non-ballerina's life and you don't get a lot of free time.

"I have to start preparing for 'The Nutcracker' at the end of September (or) beginning of October every weekend until the performances, which are in the second week of December," Jenny says. "Plus auditions are in early September, so you have to start preparing and studying your parts long before that."

The holiday season is a special time of year for many people, but for dancers it also means the traditional performance and the traditional music.

"The ('Nutcracker') music is everywhere, when you go shopping and to the mall, and I've spent the holiday season in rehearsals for so many years, (Christmas) just wouldn't feel right if there was no Nutcracker for me," Jenny says.

The show is a treat to see. It's great for kids and teens who have never seen it before. Every year across the country, famous ballet companies are performing "The Nutcracker" for millions of people.

The work and practice pay off during the show, when dancers play to enthusiatic audiences. In some ways, it's like a gift to the audience.

"Not only is it an American tradition but it is also a magical ballet that appeals to people of all ages, especially young girls," Jenny says. "It's always such a treat to see how excited they get when they see us dance."

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