By Terry Bush
It was a parade of girls in pink tights and leotards, and a few boys in black shorts and t-shirts.
More than 60 young children, including my 6-year-old, had descended on the Champaign Ballet Academy to audition for this winter’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Produced by the Champaign-Urbana Ballet Company, “The Nutcracker” would run for two November and December weekends at The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Our being here is a story of a little girl finding her passion and pursuing it, even if it was a little scary.
It started with The Nutcracker Smackdown. At least that’s what we named it.
Around Christmas in 2010, one of the cable channels broadcast three versions of The Nutcracker on a rotating basis for a week. Viewers could vote for their favorite by calling an 800 number. Charly and her mom watched two of the three. (The Monte Carlo production proved a little “adult,” so mommy exercised viewer discretion.)
Charly was hooked. On our next trip to the library, we brought home all of the ballet DVDs we could carry. Over the next few months, we watched (several times) Swan Lake, Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, and several different productions of The Nutcracker.
A year later, Charly saw her favorite ballet live at Krannert Center.
The C-U Ballet Company production was incredibly professional. All of the dancers were well-trained, even the five-year-old Polichinelles who appeared from under Mother Ginger’s skirt and performed a brief dance. When ballerina Maura Dickson took the stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy, her professional presence convinced me that she must be an imported talent from Chicago. I read her program bio. She was a high school junior from Champaign.
Charly’s eyes danced and sparkled during the entire performance. It ran well-past her usual bedtime but she was never a bit cranky about that. She thanked us and hugged us many times during the show. There is nothing like the pure joy that a five-year-old can muster.
When it ended, we told her that all of the dancers were local and some were just a little older than she was. “You could do this,” we said. “I want to,” she said. “I really, really want to.” I had never seen that look in her eyes before.
I investigated classes at the ballet academy and auditions for The Nutcracker. And on the day after her sixth birthday, we were there in line with more than 60 other little girls and boys, ready to audition.
The audition is structured like a regular ballet class. At this age, the judges are mostly looking for kids who can stay focused, follow directions and project personality. Fitting the existing costumes, one ballet mom confided, was also a big plus. They took all of the kids and parents into a dance studio. We were briefed on how the audition would go, what was expected.
Then they moved 20 kids at a time into another studio where the judges waited. The kids walked between studios holding hands. The parents applauded them. The kids’ big smiles grew even bigger as they passed through the lobby of applauding grown-ups.
If parental pride and love were rocket fuel, the building would have been on its way to Jupiter.
The cast list was posted on-line that evening. I found it and began scanning for Charly’s name. Not on page one…or two…or three…or… On page seven of seven, there she was, cast as a Polichinelle. Mommy and Daddy shared high-fives, hugs and maybe a tear or two.
In the morning, we handed her a printout of the cast list. She recognized some of the names as she scanned it. “Am I in?” she asked. I pointed to her name. “I got in?!” she squealed. It was as much a question as recognition.
That afternoon, I attended a meeting for cast and parents. All of our obligations ($200 casting fee, 15 hours of volunteer labor per parent, only one rehearsal can be missed) were explained and happily accepted. Charly’s dream was on its way to becoming true.
She is going to dance in The Nutcracker.
Terry Bush is a writer, guitar player and retired university vice president. He teaches for the University of Phoenix on-line, manages the chambanamoms.com event calendar and serves as the domestic staff for his daughter, Charly.