Andrea Aguiar may be a native of Brazil, but she has lived most of her adult life in Champaign-Urbana — and this week, makes her debut in a C-U holiday tradition. By day, the psychologist is a researcher on a teamout of the School of Veterinary Medicine that examines the effects of environmental chemicals on infants’ and adolescents’ learning, memory and attention. For the last several weeks, she has been a dancer by night, joining the cast of the Champaign Urbana Ballet production of the Nutcracker as a “rat.” She and her husband, who are very active in the local Jewish community, have two daughters, ages 7 and 4.
See why we think Andrea Aguiar is a Chambana mom to know.
Why did you decide to try out for the Nutcracker this year?
When I was born, my mother (an amateur ballerina) owned a dance school, so from the time I was 4 until age 18 (when she closed her school and opened a clothing factory!) I spent all of my time outside school at her dance studio doing ballet, modern dance, tap dance, and even some gymnastics. My mother put out fairly big and elaborate performances for her dance school twice a year. I was on stage a lot and I simply loved it. (My mom actually lived in mortal fear that I would become a dancer rather than take on a more sensible career.) So, when my 7-year-old announced that she wanted to try out for the Nutcracker this year, and I found out CU Ballet casts moms and dads for some of the roles, I thought this would be a really unique experience to share with my daughter and a way to relive some of the magic of dance and stage performances I experienced in my youth. Although I hadn’t danced in over 20 years, I think they spotted that I had some dance experience and could do some jumps, and I ended up being cast as a rat. Since my daughter was cast as a mouse, we get to be in the same scene which makes this whole experience even more special.
What have you learned about yourself over the past few weeks of intense rehearsal?
Well, I should clarify that although the rehearsals for my part were pretty considerable (especially for a full-time working mother of two young children), what really made this experience intense was that I decided to resume ballet classes on top of the rehearsals. And this is the biggest lesson about myself: the dance “bug” is still very strong within me, and the magic of dance and of being part of something beautiful and artistic on stage is simply exhilarating. Yes, I have put a lot of time into dance these past months but what I get out in terms of emotional and physical wellbeing has helped me become so much more productive and creative at work, and a much happier, self-confident, and energized mom and wife. Of course, I have also learned that there are limits: I’m not 20 anymore and my doctor informed me I have “a lot of mileage on my back” (arthritis, scoliosis, spondylosis: the works!). So, I’ve been working with a physical therapist and learning how to adapt exercise and dance moves to preserve my back and be able to keep on dancing and kickboxing for hopefully many more years to come.
What has it been like to share this experience with your daughter?
This has been a real gift. Besides making it possible for her to experience the magic and beauty of a dance production of such high caliber as the ones put out by CU Ballet, she is learning both on her own and by observing me at rehearsals about the value and importance of working hard to learn and master a skill, and that the result of all of this hard work can be extremely exhilarating. She often asks me: is it hard to be a rat?, do you think I could ever learn to do this or that part? These questions open room for us to talk about applying oneself (through real effort, dedication, and persistence) in order to learn new things. My husband and I (as the psychologist parents) often tell our children that most things in life require a lot of work, and this hard work is often what makes the whole learning process truly rewarding, worthwhile, and yes, fun. At our home, we try to emphasize the learning process and the effort behind it for our children, rather than the finished products.
Was the Nutcracker part of your family’s holiday traditions when you were growing up in Brazil?
Not really (perhaps partly because it’s summer in Brazil in December and the snow theme that I think is pretty strong in the Nutcracker just doesn’t go well with sun and beach themes – kind of like the Australian holidays, I would imagine). But ballet/dance was a big tradition, and from the time I was 7, my mother would take me several times a year to the Opera House in Sao Paulo (with the big chandellier,the Renaissance murals on the ceiling, and the red velvet covered seats), the to see big-name ballet companies, like the Bolshoi, perform major ballets like Swan Lake and Giselle. And I do remember very well, the first time I saw the complete Nutcracker ballet on TV with the incredible Mikhail Baryshnikov. However, I have been taking my daughters to see CU Ballet Nutcracker every year, since the time my 7-year-old was just 18 months old: probably as a way to relive here in C-U the experience I had with my mom at Sao Paulo’s Opera House.
What current family tradition are you looking forward to this holiday season?
Time visiting with far away relatives. Being at the beach (we are headed to Brasil) and swimming in the ocean this December. Singing holiday songs (both the American songs as well as the Jewish Hanukah songs – my daughters love to belt out both of them). And this year for the first time: being in the Nutcracker performance of CU Ballet rather than watching from the audience.
I know that you love the arts – what are your family’s favorite arts activities in Central Illinois?
My husband and I love to see plays at the theater. This year we began taking both of our daugthers to see all kinds of musical productions here in town from Mahomet-Seymour High School production of Fiddler on the Roof to CUTC’s West Side Story. They loved seeing these musicals. We enjoy clay and art lessons (and summer camps) with Lori Caterini at Class Act; my children have enjoyed art lessons and camp with Pam Seby at Champaign Park District, Art Smart program. We like Fairytale and Creative Movement classes and camps with Donna Warwick (at various locations in town), drawing lessons with Hua Nian at her home studio in Urbana. We have attended quite a few lovely music performances and story time events at the Urbana Free Library. We have also enjoyed musical events, and music and art lessons and camps at CU4-A or Community Center for the Arts in Urbana. And I am now waiting until they are a couple years older to take them to Bloomington-Normal, Shakespeare Festival, during the summer to watch a children’s abridged version of a Shakespeare play on the lawn of the gorgeous mansion where the Festival is located.
Do you know a Chambana mom or dad to know? We love nominations.