Commitment “on pointe:” Ballet dancers prepare for “The Nutcracker”

Emily Cerf

Several Redwood students are devoting much of their time to rehearsing for a show that many consider an essential part of the holiday season: “The Nutcracker.”

Ballet is year round, but many dancers say they spend more time at the studio when they are rehearsing for a show. During production time for “The Nutcracker,” an advanced dancer at a local studio can expect to spend about 20 hours a week in classes and in rehearsal, according to many of the dancers.

This level of dedication means that the dancers often have to miss out on things that many might consider typical for teenagers, such as attending school events or spending time with friends.

Junior Caitlyn Reed rehearses for her role as part of the Snow Trio.
Junior Caitlyn Reed rehearses for her role as part of the Snow Trio.

“You just really have to stay focused and you kind of have to prioritize what you want to have in your life,” said junior Caitlyn Reed, a ballet dancer at Stapleton Ballet. “You can’t always go out on a Friday night because you have ballet, and you have class the next morning. So there are some sacrifices that you have to make from basic teenage stuff.”

In the end, Reed believes that what she gains from ballet is well worth what she loses.

“Everything that I have learned from ballet, everything that it has taught me and how it’s shaped me as a person is far more important to me than other things that people see that I’m missing,” Reed said. “I don’t see it as a loss because I feel like it’s better for me.”

Junior Tiffany Dong, a dancer at Marin Ballet, said that she can’t spend as much time with friends when she’s rehearsing for a production.

“Social life-wise, I have had to turn down parties and hanging out with friends,” Dong said. “But I guess if I were to turn down ballet to go to hang out [with friends], it would greatly affect my improvement.”

Along with balancing ballet and a social life, Reed said it can be challenging to complete schoolwork due to the sheer number of hours spent at the studio.

“It’s really difficult because we get home at 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. at night and have to get all of our homework done,” Reed said. “And that gets really stressful especially around finals, because around finals is when we have Nutcracker.”

According to freshman Kaitlin McGrath, a dancer at Stapleton Ballet, her large commitment to dance has taught her to balance her time well.

“I know that I don’t have a lot of time so it motivates me to get everything done while I can,” McGrath said. “I don’t get too distracted because I know that I have to get it done––otherwise I’m not going to be going to sleep until later. You just have to manage your time well.”

Dong also has learned to manage her schedule as the stress of junior year increases.

“As a junior, to be dealing with SAT’s and ACT’s and trying to get my GPA up―and also dealing with a kind of big role [is stressful],” Dong said.

Besides trying to balance life at school with life in the studio, the dancers agreed that ballerinas also have to deal with the tension that comes with the process of auditioning for roles in “The Nutcracker.”

“The whole time the teachers are prepping you and saying it can be anybody’s game, but you know there’s always going to be two people who are happy and 15 people who are going to go away unhappy,” Reed said.

McGrath believes that even though there is an innate competitive spirit that exists during auditions, the dancers don’t let this get in the way of the close bonds they share.

“Auditions are always really competitive, but at the end we are always really good friends,” McGrath said.

At Marin Ballet the dancers don’t audition in a single night, but instead are evaluated throughout a longer period of time in their classes, according to Dong.

“Everyone’s always trying to do their best, trying to be as perfect as possible,” Dong said. “It’s that tension of if you have an off day and your friend doesn’t, you get kind of competitive, and you will have to make it up somehow by doing a triple pirouette or something like that.”