My holiday wish was to dance in the Nutcracker. I was eleven years old and a student of Charlotte Kingston Ballet School. My teacher, Mrs. Brooke, had told me that the director from the local ballet company was going to select several children from our class to perform minor roles in the holiday ballet. Everyone guessed that star students Cathleen Patterson and Ana White would be chosen. Some said other possible picks might be Isabella Hope, Abby Watkins and Tasha Shilling. But no one knew for sure. Inwardly I wanted it to be me, Maria Keller. The company was coming in four weeks to look at the class. So, I carefully practiced every day at home and twice a week at class. I also read stories about famous ballerinas. Every day I thought about Clara and her nutcracker. Every night I listened to music from the Nutcracker. It seemed like a blink of an eye before the day to audition arrived.
* * *
I carried my ballet slippers downstairs. I stopped to inhale the scent of baking sugar cookies and gingerbread that filled the house. I slipped on my coat and got in the family car. My mom drove me there. It took us fifteen minutes to reach the academy.
"Good luck, sweetie!" Mom told me as she dropped me off.
I smiled, but I was nervous. Inside the school everyone was warming up. I did the same.
A few minutes later, my friend, Tara Frost, came up to me. "This is going to be pretty exciting!" she said enthusiastically. I nodded.
The company director came in and watched us dance. I danced the best I could. But, I could see the company had their eyes on other girls. Ana and Cathleen were asked to dance again by themselves. So were Tara and Tasha. Finally, it came time to announce who would dance in the Nutcracker. The company first announced who would get the parts of the children at the Christmas party in the first scene. Abby, Tara, Isabella and Tasha were chosen. Tara and I hit high fives when we heard this news. Next, Sara Linden, Marian Fisher, Penelope Smith and Christine Lu were selected to play little clowns in a scene in the Kingdom of Sweets. Then, the last roles were announced. Tara looked anxiously at me. I nervously glanced back at her.
"Ana White, Josie Tillman, Bethany King, and Cathleen Paterson have been selected to dance as lambs in the dance of the flutes. Megan Patterson will be an understudy. All of these girls need to be at the Crossroads Ballet Studio at five PM on Monday. Thank you everyone," said the company director.
My heart sank; I would not be in the Nutcracker after all. My Christmas dream vanished. "It wasn't supposed to happen this way," I mumbled to myself as I unlaced my ballet slippers.
Tara came over to me. "Maria, you were an inch away from being picked. But, I think Isabella might have done a little better than you on some moves," she said.
"Maybe next year," she said hopefully.
"Maybe next year," I whispered. But I was doubtful. I got up to leave. I put on my coat. As I left I turned around to stare at the girls who were chosen. They were laughing and talking happily to each other. I will not be jealous of them, I promised myself as I left the building. Mom came and picked me up. I told her everything in the car as we drove home.
"I'm sorry, Maria, I wish you would have gotten a role. I know how much you wanted one. But just keep on practicing and do not give up. You will get to dance in a ballet someday," she said, trying to comfort me.
That night at dinner, my fifteen-year-old sister Mallory suggested that, even though I was not going to be in the Nutcracker, I could go watch a few rehearsals just to see what they were like. I thought it was a good idea. Mom called Mrs. Brooke later that evening to see if it would be OK and she said yes. Dad agreed to drive me there. I was a little excited about seeing them, but I would have been more excited if I was going to be in them.
That night, I lay in bed re-reading a book about Sara-Anne Medova. She was a famous ballerina who came from my hometown. The last chapter was called "Try, Try Again." It talked about how Sara-Anne became famous. When I finished it I realized that I could get upset over not getting a role. If I tried again and again and did not give up, I would eventually get a part in a ballet.
On Monday I sat in on the first rehearsal of the Nutcracker. All of the students from my class did well. But a young nineteen-year-old ballerina caught my eye. She was playing the part of Clara. She moved with such grace and elegance that you would think she was lighter than air. At the end of the rehearsal I approached her. "You dance beautifully," I said.
"Thank you," she replied kindly. Then she asked, "Who are you, young lady?"
"I am Maria Keller," I replied.
"I am Laurie Lewis," she said. There was a pause, then she said, "I noticed that you did not dance with the rest of us."
"Yes, I just came to watch. Some girls from my ballet class were chosen to be in the Nutcracker, but I was not one of them," I replied.
"Oh, I see. The same thing happened to me when I was young. I was never chosen to dance in anything. But, I began to practice more and more and my dancing got better. A few months ago I auditioned for the Crossroads Ballet Company and was chosen. The director liked me so much he gave me the role of Clara, even though I am very new," she said.
I was surprised. This ballerina did not give up and I will not either, I thought to myself.
"Just keep on trying and you will make it," she encouraged me.
"Thank you, I will," I said enthusiastically.
"Well, I better go now, I have a busy schedule, but I hope to see you again," she said.
"Goodbye, Miss Lewis!" I said as I put on my coat. I stepped outside. It was cold; snowflakes were beginning to fall. I caught one on my tongue. Dad pulled up in the car. I got in. The radio was playing Christmas music. As we drove home the streetlights made the thick blanket of snow on the ground glow orange.
Days seemed to fly by until the next rehearsal. I enjoyed going to them. Even though I did not dance, the dancers somehow made me feel like I was. I always looked forward to seeing Laurie Lewis. She always had something interesting to say about ballet.
On December 14 (four days before opening night) there was a dress rehearsal. All the ballerinas looked so beautiful in their costumes. Tara said it was magical. When I left that night I was a little sad. This was the last rehearsal I was going to. It would be a long time before I saw Laurie Lewis and the other ballerinas. Or so I thought.
On the very next afternoon, I got an urgent phone call from Mrs. Brooke. "Maria, the ballet company needs your help. Cathleen Patterson got sick. So did her sister Megan, who was the understudy. Their doctor said Megan will probably be well in time for the second performance of the Nutcracker and Cathleen will probably be well in time for the third performance. But the company does not have anyone to dance Cathleen's part on opening night. A young ballerina from the company recommended you for the role. The director says that he would like you down at the studio today if you can manage."
I could not believe it. I ran to ask Mom. She said she would take me to the studio as soon as I was needed. I got back on the phone. "I will be at the studio whenever the company needs me," I said.
"Great, the company would like you there by four-thirty," said Mrs. Brooke.
"OK, I will be there. Thank you Mrs. Brooke," I said, then set down the phone.
Mom drove me over right away. "Have fun, Maria!" she called out as I got out of the car.
"I will!" I replied excitedly. Inside, I was shown the routine I was to dance. I practiced it for an hour, then I went home. I practiced a lot the next day. I had to learn my dance quickly because the following day was opening night.
All the dancers were told to arrive at five PM so there would be plenty of time to get ready. Dad dropped me off and said that he, Mom and Mallory would be back at seven to watch the performance. Backstage everyone was getting into costume and warming up. As I looked around at the dancers I saw Laurie Lewis. She was putting on her stage makeup. I walked up to her.
"Miss Lewis, were you the ballerina who recommended me to the company director?" I asked.
She smiled. "Yes, I was," she replied.
"Thank you so very much," I said with a smile.
The director called me. "Maria Keller, it is time to get dressed."
My costume had white pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a hood with floppy ears made out of fabric that looked like lamb's wool. There was also a flower necklace that went with it. I put on my costume. Then Tara and I helped each other put on our makeup. Tara was wearing an old-fashioned-style orange dress with a frilly slip underneath. Her hair had been curled in ringlets and tied with a black ribbon.
"This is going to be exciting," she exclaimed.
"Curtain goes up in fifteen minutes," said the director. I went to put on my ballet slippers. When I picked them up I found a little silver necklace with a ballerina charm tied to the ribbons. There was a little note tied to it that said,
May all your Nutcracker dreams come true.
Love, Mom, Dad and Mallory
I smiled and put it on under my flower necklace. I ran back to the wings. Everyone was waiting and ready to start. The lights were dimmed, the music started, and the curtain went up. Laurie Lewis danced wonderfully. It was not that long before Tara danced. She and the other girls from my class did a great job. It was about an hour before the dance of the flutes was performed. The ballerinas got their cue and danced out onto the stage. After five minutes the lambs were given their cue. "One, two three, go!" said the director. I could feel my heart pounding with excitement. I ran out on stage. All I could think about was dancing. My holiday wish was coming true! After another five minutes we gracefully ran back to the wings. As I looked back at the stage I smiled. It was everything I hoped it would be.
After the ballet was over, my family and friends asked me how I liked it. I told them, "My Nutcracker dreams came true!"