10/6/2081 PRB at East Pennsboro Pumpkin Fest (Childrens & PreProfessional Division Selected Levels)
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A Dance Dad’s Backstage Look at the Nutcracker

If you haven’t yet taken in one of Pennsylvania Regional Ballet’s annual Nutcracker performances, you are truly missing out on a high quality ballet that takes, truly, months of preparation.

The dancers on stage make it look easy. I can’t even imagine the stamina, focus and energy it takes to do everything they do (and then do it again a few more times). The beauty and poise of those dancers quickly draw you into the story. Chances are good that you may have missed my part in it.

That’s right! Even Dance Dads can have a part in the performance (and I’m not talking about one of those “Party Parents” that get to show their faces on stage). I’m one of those “behind-the-scenes” kind of guys (hmmmmm…….does that mean I have a face/body made for radio?).

For the past few years, I was on the “set-up” and “tear-down” crew. “Sure,” I thought to myself, “They just use me for my muscles!” Then, I remembered that I really don’t have that many muscles…..but I digress. It was one part that I was happy to say I could do.

I must have excelled at that part – because, last year, I was promoted to backstage duty. Again, with the dancers twirling and smiling, you may have missed my part. I raised part of the house! I’m a home builder by trade – so maybe I’m being typecast – but this was a different kind of house raising. If you know the story, there’s a scene where Clara starts to dream – and the house (and Christmas tree) grow as Clara finds herself in a strange new world – battling mice.

Yep – that was me! I raised the right hand side of the house. No applause. No overt recognition. I just needed to make sure I raised it at the right speed to keep up with the main house (and left side) so it looked all smooth and ballet-like. The other guys on the crew laughed when they heard I had that part – knowing that it is a critical part (that must be given to all of the rookies). I was sweating bullets!

I think it went off without a hitch. I didn’t drop a house on any dancers. No one had to call security and remove me from backstage. And I was asked to return this year (wonder if I’ll be promoted to the main house?).

Hopefully, you catch the humor in my musings about being backstage. Truth be told, there is a lot that happens backstage with a dedicated crew – many who have been helping out for years. There’s also a great sense of camaraderie that happens backstage between the dancers, professional performers, crew and the faculty of PRB.

No wonder my daughter is so excited for this performance every year. Here it is – early November – and she has already started her countdown to the performance. She loves getting “the schedule” that tells her when she has to be at the theater to practice and perform.

The dancers form little “towns” in their respective dressing areas – each using squatters’ rights to claim their home for the few days they spend in the theater. I saw my daughter’s checklist – and she even notes to get to the theater early to get a “good spot!”

A troop of Dance Moms helps out with quick changes between some of the numbers – and I can only imagine how chaotic it must be in those dressing rooms when there are so many dancers with so many hair accessories and costume adjustments that need to be done pronto.

It’s a good thing that Dance Dads aren’t permitted to help out with that. Even if we had to do hair alone, I’m quite certain that duct tape would be on a holster – ready to secure some glittery pin to a dancer’s head. It’d stick alright – but it wouldn’t be pretty!

They keep us Dads doing more manly things – like raising houses, pushing cannons and maneuvering other heavier props.

The staff and faculty are hard at work directing, producing – and whisper-yelling orders out to the dancers: “Keep your head up!” “Smile!” “Why is that hat duct taped to your head – and who let a Dad help you out?!?” Every once in awhile, you even catch the staff having a bit of their own fun in the background – like this top secret photo I snapped with my belt buckle cam

I didn’t even mention the folks who put together the lights and sound for the show. Those folks are true geniuses of sight and sound. I think my favorite part is the mouse invasion. Just watch the lighting (and the shadows cast by that lighting) and you’ll know what I mean.

The professional dancers and other adults who return year-after-year to perform in this performance have been so friendly. They make themselves available to the student dancers. Because many have returned, there are friendships that I can tell have developed over time – friendships that continue to grow year after year.

The performances seem to be over so quickly – especially after the months of preparation. All of a sudden, the Nutcracker is over for another year. That “magical place” that my daughter longs for every year (I’m talking the magical place backstage – not the one that you might get to see from the audience) is quickly packed away, swept up and stored for another year. No wonder she (and many of the other dancers) find themselves crying as it comes to an end.

I’ve still been able to maintain my manly composure. I haven’t cried……………..(yet).

Feel free to share your backstage (or Nutcracker) stories, too!

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About Brad Haubert

I'm a home builder by day. Most every other time, I'm a bicyclist (both road and mountain). Proud husband and father of two, I also spend some of my free time blogging (about cycling - go figure) and building websites.