• Jennifer Hastings

The Nutcracker: A Tradition of Excellence

Updated: Oct 9, 2019


Every small town has unique traditions. Those traditions that breathe life into the community, those traditions that seem to be the heartbeat and spirit of a place, those traditions that bring people together. For my town, the annual performance of the Nutcracker is the main ingredient for kicking off the Christmas season.

Party girls, Clara, a prince, a crazy grandmother, a mouse king, and toy soldiers have all danced their way into our hearts over the years. Watching the special ballerinas of our lives take their moment in the spotlight has come to signify a rite of passage, a passing of the torch to the next girl. Just look at these party girls curls, these girls take every detail seriously. It really is a tradition of excellence.

Berrien Long, the founder and Artistic Director of the Dalton Dance Project, has charmed crowds for twenty-six years straight with the enchanting tale of the Nutcracker. She has created a living breathing thing; a ballet to remember. There is a magical quality about it that gets better with each performance you watch.

I watched my first Nutcracker about fifteen years ago, being a classroom teacher at the time, I received a sweet postcard from one of my students inviting me to the show. Now, all these years later, that same sweet little girl sat behind me last Saturday night all grown-up and the owner of a college degree. You see, these girls continue to support each other even after their Nutcracker years are over.

I have a feeling if you were to ask a past Clara what it was like to be Clara, you would see a look of pure pride and accomplishment flicker across their eyes that would rival that of a quarterback's face as he throws the winning touchdown to take his team to state. About a month ago, I discovered the wall of Clara in the back of the dance studio. As I stood there and took in those girls' pictures, I realized these girls have become part of something bigger than themselves. They are tradition!

Mrs. Long, always says right before the show starts, "Sit back and let the magic of Nutcracker happen!”

The magic is a bittersweet feeling, this magic creeps up behind my eyelids and threatens to spill over onto my cheeks. The magic is a gauge to measure time. Time is a tricky thing to see, if you are not careful, time passes by without you even noticing. One of my favorite quotes is... Dost thou love life? Do not squander time because that is the stuff life is made of- Benjamin Franklin. The Nutcracker is a beautiful window into a moment in time. The tiny spaces of time when little girls turn into girls, girls turn into teens, and teens turn into young women right before your eyes. Girls who were once little soldiers suddenly turn into bonbons and before you know it they are dancing the role of Snow Queen. This is the magic! It is a reminder to cherish the fruits of your labor. For the girls, it is a culmination of the celebration of all their pointe shoe dedication. The moment when their hard work is worth every blister. For parents, it is a sigh of wonder, it is the moment when you learn just how important dance is to your daughter. It it the moment you are glad you have spent many hours traveling back and forth to the studio. You see for yourself why she flits around the living room practicing her arabesque and other french words you can't pronounce. On stage you can feel the love the girls have for dance and more importantly you see the love they have for each other.

Every year the Dalton Arts Project puts on the Nutcracker for our fourth grade students. This year I had the privilege of going back stage and talking with Mary Grace Mitchell, a senior dancer this year, who just happened to be in my fourth-grade class.

"What does the Nutcracker mean to you?" I asked.

Surrounded by racks of colorful costumes and with an open caboodle full of stage make-up and fake eyelashes, Mary Grace's eyes twinkled as she said, "It is the beginning of Christmas. The relationships I have built with these girls over the last 15 years are priceless. We come from different schools and different backgrounds, but we have such a deep love for each other!"

I have my own dancers now! I’m trying to live in the moment and enjoy each dance and performance as it comes, but when you see the dancers on stage growing each year, you know that this year has gone too fast and your tiny dancer is growing up into a lady before your eyes. I’ve turned into the crazy lady that dabs her eyes with the back of sleeve because I can’t control the tears oozing from my eyes. Maybe being a teacher makes it harder for me, I see the girls on stage and memories of special moments from the classroom come to mind and the tears start rolling. Maybe all parents feel this way. I wonder if the dad’s of the girls are immune to this affliction or do they do hold back the tears when they see their little girl on stage? Do they hold back the memories of skinned knees and the times when a hug from their hero made everything better? No matter what your child is a part of, the way I see it, take the time to soak up their performances, plays, sporting events, and enjoy every moment! They will be holding their college degree before you know it.


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