Just when I thought it was safe to go out during the holidays... I've been sucked back in!!!

(A note to my readers: I know this looks long... cuz it is, but I don't talk much about these feelings with anyone because they make me cry. So if you've ever wondered how I feel about it, here you go.)

I first danced in The Nutcracker when I was 7 years old which, by my calculations, was in the year 1990. I will never forget (unless dementia has something to do with it) the magical, overwhelming feeling of walking into the Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium (which is actually huge and nice) and seeing the amazing scenery for the party scene. Whatever virus it is that causes a performer to yearn continually for the stage, the smell of the lights, and (for a dancer) that Marley floor entered my body instantly and stays there infecting me to this day. I was just a "party girl," and the littlest one at that. However, I was the very first person to walk on stage. I could still do that whole part from start to finish.

Fast forward 9 years. When I was sixteen, I performed almost every big part in the show that there is (at different performances, of course). I was the Snow Queen, the Dew Drop Fairy, and even the Sugar Plum Fairy for the benefit performance. For the rest of the shows, a guest artist from some real ballet company would do it. I still remember most of the choreography for all those parts too. I felt like a real ballerina, and I was wildly happy.

By the time I left Amarillo, The Nutcracker was nothing but fantastic memories. Even though, that last year, I was extremely sick for most of my shows. My doctor bought a front row ticket. He said I probably wouldn't be able to do it... he was not familiar with the irrational, adrenaline and artistic spirit driven ability to dance under nearly any circumstance because the SHOW MUST GO ON!

Then, I moved to Seattle and had the grand privilege of dancing in the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker. It's crazy. It's this Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) designed version of the ballet choreographed by Kent Stowell (whose choreography is a little crazy). Incidentally, his Nutcracker is my favorite thing he choreographed that I've seen. The choreography is very emotive and festive. I LOVE his snow scene. That was my favorite part I performed with PNB. Of course, no big parts for me out here. I was just another fish in the pond, but it was wonderful all the same... at first. Everyone in a professional company has a love/hate relationship with The Nutcracker. We love it because we get to dance a lot, and younger company members get the opportunity sometimes to do a soloist role. However, we also stinkin' hate it because you have to do it a BILLION times. Most of the magic disappears around show 10... then you have 24 or so more to do. Your body starts to rebel; you miss Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family (at least I did); and you HATE anything resembling holiday cheer because it usually involves the absolute inability to escape from The Nutcracker score anywhere you go: Safeway, Nordstrom, even Old Navy.... it's everywhere!!!

Then, my Nutcracker bitterness was sealed forever on November 29, 2002, 12 years after my first show. Most people who read this know what happened. Stage hands made a mistake, and I wound up with a partially herniated disc and a fractured vertebrae that eventually ended my dancing career at the ripe old age of 19. All my glorious associations with the music and dancing were covered with new associations like these: Spanish music = searing low back pain, Snow Scene = searing low back pain, Flowers = searing low back pain... and so on. It was horrible. It still is horrible. I've cried every 11/29 since then (and many other days too). I then had a 4 year break from The Nutcracker.

So now, in 2007, I'm back to The Nutcracker. The studio I teach for just did their first performance of a medley of Nutcracker pieces. It was a rough day. I had all sorts of sad memories swirling in my head. If I hadn't been injured (and, I KNOW, who knows what could have happened), I might still be performing the ballet with a professional company not corralling a bunch of 5-7 year olds and whisper-screaming from the wings, "No, Ashley, this way!!!!" Of course, I was on my feet for a good 6 hours through the dress rehearsal and performance, so my back was killing me. For the little Spud's sake, I couldn't take any Ibuprofen either. The searing low back pain associations work in reverse from the above. The pain instantly makes me long for the ability to dance and perform and that virus that I caught when I was 7 years old throbs inside my heart.

That was the painful side of what was going on in my head and heart. There was a warm fuzzy thing happening too. Because God is supremely good and loves me and has given me the ability to see his wisdom (although, I will never completely understand it) through the mist of my severe pain over the whole thing, my redeemed soul was so happy to be given the opportunity to share the joy of that ballet with a bunch of little girls who are just like I was when I was their age. I made them ornaments to commemorate their first Nutcracker experience. I taught them about stage etiquette. I gave them a warm-up. I showed them their tape marks on the stage. I was so happy that those little, cute girls got to have the fun of doing that stinkin' ballet.

The next day, we went to Bellingham to watch Brendan's cousin's daughter perform in her first Nutcracker. That was actually almost harder for me than being backstage for my students. I had to actually sit and watch the whole thing. I relived so many moments that afternoon, good and bad. Even the good are somewhat bittersweet now. It was a strange feeling watching the highschool students (a couple of whom seemed quite talented) perform those roles that had so greatly satisfied me: Snow Queen, Dew Drop, Sugar Plum. I felt their pain when they each consecutively messed up their fouettes. And I thrilled along with them when they held their balances and nailed their pique turns. I wanted to run backstage and find them all. But, I didn't know if I wanted to say, "You're great! You can do it! Keep going. I'm proud of you, bizzaro version of me! You might just make it!" or "RUN AWAY! GO TO COLLEGE! THEY'RE GOING TO STRING YOU ALONG AND THEN CAUSE YOUR DEMISE! NO ONE REALLY CARES ABOUT YOU! GO BE A DOCTOR!" I just sat in my seat and quietly cried.

I believe that God loves The Nutcracker because it is a reflection of his creative character. It is a well made piece of art that combines the talents of so many people who by His common grace were blessed with the ability to reflect God's character. It has provided the means to teach probably millions, at this point, of children the joy of working to do something well and participating in art. So, all in all, I'm extremely thankful for The Nutcracker, but I'm not sure that I was ready to go back to it. Maybe being pregnant made the emotions more intense.

"Baby, Baby, can't you hear [your] heart beat?"