Magic and joy and The Nutcracker


When I was a little girl, maybe six, maybe seven, an aunt of mine with a particular affinity for the arts took me to see the Nutcracker. It was, in a word, dreamy.

Except for one small thing.

As a ballerina in training myself, I harbored a dream that they would decide to bring in a newbie. A dancer from the audience. The show director would peer into the audience and make a desperate plea for one brave ballerina to leap onto the stage and join the show. I, of course, would volunteer immediately and my great on-stage debut would take place right there and then.

I wore my fanciest headband for the occasion.

That I spent the entirety of that performance seated next to my aunt only dampened my spirits a tiny bit. Because the performance was so magical.

playing with nutcracker

The opening scenes of The Nutcracker paint a picture that I believe should always just simply be the holidays. The busy bustling and preparing. People coming together and laughing and, if the mood strikes, dancing. Children with excitement that is so great and so over the top that it just cannot be contained. It won’t be. No matter how many time little Fritz finds himself pulled off the stage by his ear, the poor little guy just can’t help himself. And no matter how many times sweet Clara finds her joyful Nutcracker dance interrupted by her brother, she just can’t stop trying.

But also, in the midst of all of the bustle and the crazy and the busy, there are small and quiet moments. When Clara’s mother helps her get dressed, her father waiting in the wings to fawn and hug and squeeze. When, in the midst of the tree lighting and the last moments before the guests arrive, the lights dim and Clara comes to the front of the stage, in the spotlight, and dances a dance of pure and gorgeous joy of living in this moment right now. That moment catches me every time. I feel that too.

When I found that my firstborn was a girl. And when that girl exhibited a love of ballet. And, further, when she began begging for a nutcracker of her own. And when she began to eagerly grow a love and a passion for all things magical and beautiful and sparkly… Well I knew we’d end up here.

So on Sunday, we braved the first winter storm of the season and headed into the city. So excited and eager (and a little weather wary) we got there a half hour early. And we watched and waited. And I offered that we could cross the street and grab some food and come back. But she didn’t want to leave.

And it was Family Day. So we got to meet the dancers. We got to get Clara’s autograph. We got to sit and color for a bit. We got to watch the preparing and the stretching and the last-minute practicing.

coloring at nutcracker

watching nutcracker practice

And then we got to watch the show.

And my girl is only four. It crossed my mind that perhaps this was somewhat ill-conceived. No nap, an hour and a half of pre-show activity, and a 2-hour long show. It’s a lot.

But I know my girl. And there is a beauty in knowing your child so well that you know what they will love and what will create that magical moment in which they defy all rules about age and childhood development. Because it is just that special.

We dressed up for the occasion. And she stayed in that fancy red dress until bedtime on Sunday.

And the dresses and the theater and the just-me-and-her and the snow… it was a big day. And it was so magical.

I’m pretty sure we started a tradition here this weekend. We’ve already talked about what age baby brother comes along. And already I’m torn. I want him to come along. A family outing every year to the ballet. Because magic and wonder and dancing are not just for girls. But I also want this mommy-daughter special time too. I can see these events morphing as she grows older. A day just for us.

We have time to sort that out. And we will.

But I do know that Clara and her nutcracker and Drosselmeyer and Tchaikovsky have now woven themselves into the fabric of our holiday season in the most beautiful way.

nutcracker tutu

We saw the Washington Ballet’s performance at the Warner Theatre.


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