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Nutcracker and Nostalgia
When I think of December I think of The Nutcracker. It has become a staple of my December since I danced in my first Nutcracker (I was the mouse that got shot in the battle scene). I think like many dancers there is a love-hate relationship with The Nutcracker. The holiday tradition often seems inescapable as the music of Tchaikovsky’s famed score fills studios in October as rehearsals start and is heard through the new year as the twinkling notes of the sugar plum fairy’s solo echo behind a car commercial or the upbeat rhythm of the candy cane divertissement fills a department store.
This year was no different as rolled Mid-October we had started rehearsal. I had the opportunity to dance in the Waltz of the Flowers. This was the first Nutcracker I performed with a company other than the company I started dancing at and danced with until I graduated. When you dance at the same studio for such a long time you work your way through the cast of Nutcracker as you start by performing as one of Mother Ginger’s gingersnaps and eventually performing as the sugarplum fairy or Clara.
Even with all of those Nutcrackers, I had never performed in Waltz of the Flowers before but this year the excitement I usually felt about The Nutcracker was subdued. I think this was because despite Nutcracker being the cornerstone of my Decembers this was a new Nutcracker. The choreography was different, the people I was performing with were different, and the theater was different. It was all new and it wasn’t the Nutcracker I had grown up with and had associated with all of these happy memories. Something that I used to get so excited about felt more like a hurdle that was standing in front of me than something I used to wait with anticipation for all year.
I carried this attitude with me until that first performance. I think I forgot about the pure joy that comes along with the performance. As I ran off stage I felt that child-like joy I had always associated with Nutcracker. I forgot about the discomfort of the new and different and remembered why I loved Nutcracker: because it was fun. As I sat backstage watching the Grand Pas de Deux I was overrun with the nostalgia of watching the Grand Pas rehearsal through the doorway of my home studio when I was little, in awe of the grace and beauty. And as I sat backstage this year I felt the same way and remembered how magical dancing and performing is and how lucky I am to do it every day.
Some Notes on Personal Growth
For the past 14 weeks, I have been dancing Monday through Friday 9 am until 3 pm every day. I have danced in programs with similar schedules but it was for only 9 weeks at a maximum. I remember having feelings of apprehension as I entered this year because I have never danced for this long of a time. But as I enter my 14th week and the final week before 2 weeks off for the holidays I have proved my apprehensive thoughts from August wrong.
Dancing this much it was expected that I would see my technique improve but it took me a long time to actually see my growth. I think my slow discovery of growth is attributed to my now-established routine and my inner critic. I think routine can sometimes hinder my ability to see my growth because routine implies consistency making me feel like my dance technique is just as consistent as my schedule which is not in fact true. The epiphany of my growth as a dancer occurred during my first performance because it was a break in my routine, an opportunity to do something different than just ballet class and rehearsal. Being able to see my growth brought me lots of joy because it in a sense validated the work I was doing making me proud of the work I had already done but also motivating me for the future.
The feeling of pride also helped curb the self-critical thoughts that also stood in the way of my awareness of my growth. In ballet, there is an expectation that you are constantly self-correcting yourself in the mirror. This creates a very fine line between self-correction and self-criticism. I find at times I cross this line into self-criticism like focusing on the fact I fell out of my double en dedans pirouette on pointe rather that the fact that this time last year I wouldn’t even think that I could do a double en dedans pirouette on pointe. It is a perfect example of how my inner critic prevented my realization of growth but as I reflect on the last 14 weeks I don’t feel critical but instead fulfilled by what I have achieved and excited about what is to come.
Perspective on Pointe Class
I have always hated pointe class. It’s ironic as pointe shoes are one of the most iconic symbols of ballet as an art form. But I don’t hate pointe in general, in fact, I love performing on pointe or learning choreography on pointe, it is just pointe class that I don’t like. I always thought that I didn’t like pointe class because it was boring because instead of artistic and expressive choreography it was just training exercises that were dry with the goal of strengthening my pointe work. But after spending the past two months taking a pointe class every day I came to the realization that my previous dislike of pointe class was not because it was boring (it’s not) but because pointe scared me. Pointe scared me and in pointe class, there was time to overthink and give in to the anxiety that I might slip and fall or twist my ankle whereas in pointe choreography there isn’t time to overthink or be scared, you just have to do the choreography.
My fear is understandable as pointe work makes the surface area of the main two contact points on the floor significantly smaller. Furthermore, those points of contact are covered in satin decreasing the friction between your feet and the floor. As my classes began in September I dreaded seeing pointe class on the schedule but I find that I am no longer dreading it. I am becoming comfortable with pointe class and there isn’t a need to overthink. So my hatred of pointe class has eased and it feels like one of the most visible improvements that I have made so far this year. I have always understood the importance and need for mental strength in dance alongside the physical aspect of it. But prior to this year, I was comfortable in my environment because I had been at the same studio for 13 years with the same teachers so long I had forgotten about some of the mental challenges of dance. This year though I am remembering how important mental grit is and the satisfaction that comes with overcoming those challenges, even if it is just my hatred of pointe class.