Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Unschooling the Nutcracker Ballet

Last week, if you had asked, I would have reported that I was officially in Nutcracker hell. The girls will be performing this weekend in the Nutcracker Ballet. Last July, when they begged to audition, it felt like a fantastic idea. In the summertime, we often attend Ballet in the Park. We pack a picnic dinner and watch professional dancers perform on an outdoor stage. It's wonderful. At the end of one of the performances this summer, the director announced that auditions were being held for the Nutcracker Ballet. Children of all ages were encouraged to attend. We're unschoolers, we say yes to all kinds of new and exciting opportunities. Auditioning for a big-time ballet performance, complete with professional dancers and amazing costumes seemed like a great experience. And a long shot. I figured they'd get a chance to see what a big time audition was like, get politely dismissed, and we'd all once again watch the Nutcracker Ballet safely from our seats in the audience. I was wrong. Both girls were cast, in multiple roles. Rehearsals began in October and were very tame at first. Weekends only, pretty low key. I was pleasantly surprised at how well we were navigating the world of serious ballet.

The girls have taken dance for years, but never serious dance. To me, the whole point of unschooling is to try lots and lots of cool stuff for a long, long time before getting serious. They're kids! They've got their whole lives to get serious, right? So far, none of them have latched on to any one thing long enough to warrant serious commitment. Last week, this Nutcracker production launched into full-fledged, serious commitment, and I was not happy about it. Rehearsal schedules changed at the last minute, multiple times. Rehearsals ran late. Expensive hair pieces I didn't even know existed needed to be special ordered. I ran around town trying to buy white knee socks. When was the last time you shopped for white knee socks? Not fun. Nutcracker hell.

I couldn't remember why in the world I had agreed to all this. Suddenly at rehearsals, I felt completely out of place. This wasn't my world. We're not a serious ballet family. We're unschoolers. We're not cut out for this. In the midst of my ballet panic attack, a friend asked how the girls were doing with it all. I was so caught up in how hassled I felt by the whole thing, I had forgotten to check in with them. The kids. The whole reason I agreed to this in the first place. When we talked about it later that night, the girls seemed fine. More than fine. They were having the time of their lives. We talked about the intensity of rehearsals and the impatience of the older dancers and the director. They explained that it really didn't bother them. They loved it and couldn't wait to perform on the big, big stage. I breathed a sigh of relief and took the weekend to rearrange my own attitude about the whole thing.

This week, it all feels much different. Dress and Tech rehearsals have begun, costumers and stage managers are freaking out. I, however, am cool as a cucumber. Tonight, Charley and I stayed for rehearsal. When we walked upstairs to the glassed in viewing area, there was an excitement in the air that I hadn't felt there before. It took just a moment for me to realize what was different. The principal dancers had arrived. All of a sudden scenes I had been watching absentmindedly for months came to life with an intensity and passion that was remarkable. My girls, and the other amateur dancers, watched in awe and met the adult dancers' skill with a newfound grace and confidence. They were sharing the stage with real, live, professional dancers.

Every year, a team of professional dancers travel 300 miles from a much larger city with multiple ballet companies, to perform the principal roles in our Nutcracker Ballet. They descend upon our small town studio just days before opening night to put the whole show together. I've known this all along. We've seen the Nutcracker almost every year since we moved here. The Sugar Plum Fairy never disappoints. The male dancers can leap and lift just as well as the ones in New York or San Francisco, I'm sure. It's just that in the midst of my little tantrum last week, I didn't remember all that. I also had no idea how it would feel to actually sit and watch them all rehearse. With my girls...on the same stage. Whoa. It was a privilege. I get chills just thinking about it.

As we walked out of the studio, we were all buzzing with excitement. The girls giggled and squealed about what it was like to finally rehearse the party scene with the real Drosselmeyer. I could hardly get a word in edge wise. I was just as excited as them. As we chatted on the way home I took a moment to apologize for my attitude. "Remember last week when I was all grouchy and irritated with all the Nutcracker madness?" I said.
"You mean when you told us we could never, ever be in the Nutcracker, ever again?" Macy asked.
"Yeah, that," I replied sheepishly. "Well, I'm sorry I was so negative. I'm really happy that you guys are having such a good time. I really can't wait for opening night."
"Does that mean you're not mad anymore about how expensive the hair pieces were?" Janey teased.
"Okay," I admitted, "I'm still not thrilled about that, but I'm really, really proud of you guys. This is a really big deal, and you've handled it so well."

And they really have. Who knows? This could be the beginning of a lifetime of serious (or not so serious) dance for one, or all of my children (god, I hope not). But that's the beautiful thing about unschooling. We won't know until we're there.

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