Growing up in a working-class family in Chicago, I did not experience a lot of culture - but a school trip to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater changed my life.
I wanted to be part of what was happening on that stage. At dinnertime, I gushed about what I had seen and told my astonished family that I was going to be a modern dancer. Of course, none of us knew what that meant, but major credit goes to my mom who drove me downtown to my very first dance class.
At 20, I flew to New York on a one-way ticket to pursue my dream of dancing professionally. It was humbling to take technique classes with the best-trained dancers in the world, but I found success, performing and touring in New York and throughout Canada – until after a few years, I transitioned to arts administration. Dancers, just like athletes, do not have long careers.
Next month, I’ll again be on stage in a cameo appearance as Mother Ginger in Vermont Ballet Theater’s holiday classic, The Nutcracker. In this fairy tale, an evil spell turns a young man into a Nutcracker doll who can only be saved by the love of Clara, a young girl. He also has to defeat the malicious Mouse King.
After a Christmas party when the adults are asleep, dolls come to life and win an epic battle with the mice, breaking the curse. Then Clara and the now Nutcracker Prince are magically transported to the Land of Snow and Land of Sweets for celebratory dances from around the world.
I have it easy; playing an enormous woman with big hair and a vast crinoline skirt - a comic moment that only lasts a few minutes. One dress rehearsal and I’m ready for my close-up.
The kids in the show, however, have been training for two months, preparing to be the best-ever mice, elves, soldiers, angels, and clowns. The young soloists have trained for years, methodically developing and refining their technique, progressing from being party children to leading roles such as Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Two principal dancers from American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet are an added bonus this year - both for the audience and for our aspiring dancers – enabling them to imagine their own futures, resplendent with possibilities.