Dancing Through December

The impact of the Nutcracker ballet on the lives of three girls from Grafton.

Samantha Wanderer, Arts Editor

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Every December while the Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg transforms into a winter wonderland, right across S. Henry street at William and Mary’s Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall lies the true crown jewel of Christmas in Hampton Roads: the Virginia Regional Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker. For three girls from Grafton, the show meant giving up months of their time in preparation of one very stressful week of performances;  though they say it was worth it in the end.

Karen Fleming, Sarah Petko, and Lindsay Hoffpauir have been dancing practically since they could walk. Karen is a senior and the latter two are juniors, meaning they have each been dancing for nearly fourteen years.

“My mom used to dance when she was younger for thirteen years and so she was the one who got me into dancing,” explained Sarah.

Lindsay’s dancing career began much the same as Sarah’s: “My mom put me in dance and I think I liked it from the beginning.” Whereas Karen’s beginning strays from that of the other two as she said, “I actually started taking dance classes because a friend of mine was taking them. Of course as a 3 year old, I just wanted to do whatever my friends were doing!”

Despite coming from different beginnings, they all ended up in the same place early on. “I’ve known Lindsay, Karen and Jillian since I was younger and I’ve known them throughout the years and it’s been nice to have them [to dance with],” said Sarah.

Karen also noted that the people she has danced with through the years have shaped her dancing career and life. “Given that we see each other almost every day, the people I dance with have definitely become some of my closest friends. We’re like a family- we suffer together and succeed together! Like any family though, we do argue sometimes, but in the end we love each other.”

The strong relationships the girls have with each other and the rest of the cast of Nutcracker undeniably provided them with the endurance they would need to get through the weeks leading up to, and the week of performances.

“This was my first year doing Nutcracker,” explained Sarah, “and during tech week it was really crazy. We all tried to stay calm and nice so we didn’t get too crazy and over-stressed, but there were some points where we got so frustrated and tired that we wanted to go home. But once the public shows started, it felt like it was worth it.”

Lindsay, who’s been doing Nutcracker for years, agreed with Sarah about the level of stress she felt during preparation for Nutcracker saying, “It’s pretty stressful since you’re there a lot, but once you get to tech week it can be a lot more fun since you’re with everyone all the time. Once you’re actually performing, that’s when it gets really fun.”

However, after tech week was over and performances began, all three could contend that the hard work and hectic atmosphere of tech week had been worth it. “I personally love being at the theater, despite all of the craziness,” said Karen.

Karen, a seasoned veteran of Nutcracker, believes Nutcracker was highly successful this year. “For me personally this was the best Nutcracker yet. We had a live orchestra which brought the show to another level. I was also incredibly fortunate to be cast in 2 pas de deux, Snow and Arabian, which was also very special,” said Karen.
All three girls played multiple roles in the performance, keeping them busy for most of the duration of the performance. Karen played four parts, one of which was a demisoloist; Lindsay had five roles, also including a demisolo. Sarah had three parts.

Having a whole week of performances created an abundance of memories. “I was dancing as the bear in this giant head and big old suit,” recalled Sarah, “and during the school shows there are a lot of kids. There was a part that I had to turn around and shake my butt and all the kids laughed. It made me realize I was doing this to bring joy.”

Not all memories were light-hearted, though. Lindsay said she remembers nearly having a mental breakdown due to the stress of the show on top of having to make up a week’s worth of school work.

Although the stress hit her hard this year, Lindsay is determined to make dancing and acting her future career. “I want to major in musical theater, which will have dance, and broadway,” said Lindsay.

Karen and Sarah said they also want to continue performing or teaching dance in the future. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” said Karen,“with that being said, I plan to stay involved with dance in college somehow- even if I don’t make it into a ballet program, I still hope to take classes or teach.”

Regardless of what they end up doing with their lives, Karen, Lindsay and Sarah will forever cherish their time spent together in nutcracker.