My earliest memories take place inside a dance studio; it is where I spent the majority of my childhood, it's where I learned the value of hard work, discipline, limits, and successes. So it was no surprise to anyone that the joy in my heart to find I was expecting a daughter was immediately paired with a vision of a little girl in a tutu. And, eighteen months after she was born, Emerson was in her first recital, and she's been dancing ever since.
My hope was that my daughter would love dance as I did, not only because it was something we could share, but because I knew the beauty and artistry of dance would affect her whole life, as it did mine. From dancing school recitals at the John Hancock Hall to national competitions, from dance companies to starting a dance program at Austin, I have loved it all. Here's a fact: I have been dancing or teaching dance for all but three of my 44 years, and I continue to love it in new ways each year.
But there is a fondness in my heart for the holiday season and the Nutcracker that is beyond description. As a child, I danced in the Boston Ballet's Nutcracker, and while my time there was equally exhilarating and exhausting, the memories are as familiar and comfortable as a broken-in pair of pointe shoes, and ones I am not likely to forget. All of it - the intricate maze of tunnels under the Wang Center stage itself (the Ballet now calls the Opera House their home), the giant costume closets, the enormous practice rooms for the principals and company members, the fleeting glances into the dressing rooms of the ballet royalty - was like stepping into a fantasy world. If I close my eyes, I can still remember the excitement of standing in the wings, trembling next to such legends as Elaine Bauer and Laura Young, who, in my twelve-year-old eyes, were like angels on earth. It was a precious, special time, and one I was looking forward to sharing with my own little dancer.
Since her earliest days, I'd taken her to Nutcracker productions, including the one I choreograph at Austin. I have photos of her as plump as a little jelly donut, sitting among rows of my ballerinas in their sparkly tutus. Needless to say, when the opportunity arose for Emerson to audition for a local production of The Nutcracker, my heart leapt. We chose the perfect leotard, I pinned her hair into twin buns, gave her a big kiss and sent my six-year-old on the first dance audition of her life. And she made it. She was selected for her dream role: a mouse.
Naturally, we were thrilled beyond belief. The rehearsal schedule fit perfectly into my own Nutcracker rehearsals, and Em skipped off to practice with a smile. And then came the updates:
"Mommy, we got our places today, I'm Mouse 5!...Did you know that we are very important because we fight the Nutcracker and almost win?...I get to drag off the Mouse that gets shot because I'm really strong...Did you know I get to stand near the Mouse King in the wings?...We have to be very quiet when we are backstage because we have to be professionals...Mommy, will you be in the audience for all my performances? Mommy, next year, can I do it again? I want to be a Cherub. And then a Party Girl. And then Clara."
And so it went. My little Mouse was amazing, and I watched every performance with tears in my eyes; not only for the gift I have been given in having a daughter, but in having one with whom I can share some of the things I love. I am not certain whether her love for dance will be as encompassing as mine; she will grow and change and develop her own directions (followed by her own little brother who wants to do everything she does - her own Fritz, if you will) and I will applaud everything she does, onstage or off.
But for now, my little girl has visions of sugarplums dancing in her head, and my heart is filled with love and gratitude in a million different ways.
Merry Christmas, everyone.