By Jessie Johnson
With Christmas just around the corner, many commercials will be playing familiar tunes such as “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” or the “March of the Children” to advertise their latest merchandise. While the melodies from “The Nutcracker” ballet may annoy television-viewers, this music stirs up fond memories for me. Unlike most people, I did not just hear “The Nutcracker” during the Christmas season. I actually danced in the famous ballet in high school. Auditions were held at the end of August, and I spent the next three months with the “Waltz of the Flowers” stuck in my head as I tried to master the choreography that we would perform for thousands of people in December.
My participation in “The Nutcracker” had a rather unlikely beginning. While most girls begin ballet at age three and stay long enough for their moms to compile a collection of cute pictures in tutus, I did not take a ballet class until I was thirteen. Prior to that, I always wanted to follow in the footsteps of my older brother, Joey. Basketball and soccer seemed like much better ways to prove that I was just as tough as him. As I entered middle school, however, it became evident that I did not inherit my grandfather’s height like Joey did, and so I decided to put basketball aside. It was around the same time that my little sister, Julia, was finally old enough to enroll in ballet class, which she had been begging to do since she could walk. Since I was not playing a sport that season, my mom encouraged me to tag along with Julia and try out a class. I reluctantly agreed, and signed up for a beginning jazz class — staying as far away from ballet as possible.
I immediately fell in love with dance. I had already developed the necessary musicality thanks to several years of choir, piano and band. I have the blessing of a good memory, so picking up steps came quickly, and I found that the controlled, sustained strength needed for dance suited my small stature. After years of trying out many different sports, I had finally found my niche, and I could not get enough of it. I quickly kept adding more classes in ballet, tap and modern dance, and, after a few years of playing catch-up, I finally advanced to the level of my peers by my junior year.
While I have not kept up with ballet in college, I have taken its lessons with me. The appreciation for beauty that ballet cultivates is part and parcel to a liberal arts education, and dancing for 15-20 hours a week taught me to manage my time well. Perhaps the greatest gift that ballet has left me with, though, is being able to share it with my sister: watching her grow into a wonderful artist and practicing choreography with her in the living room are some of my greatest joys when I go home, as well as some of my most cherished memories from dance.