Central Florida Ballet’s Nutcracker {and an 8-year-old Boy}

We all are guilty of doing things impulsively on occasion — whether it’s just sneaking a box of cookies into the shopping cart, stalking peeking at that old boyfriend on facebook, or deciding to buy a car that day.  Last Tuesday I took a leap of cataclysmic proportions  faith when a “daily deals” email tempted me with an offer I simply couldn’t refuse. I bought tickets to the ballet. And I decided to take my son.

No, I was not drunk at the time….but that would have been a fabulous excuse.

Now, I have a pretty darn good kid, but he’s an 8-year-old boy.  His world revolves around Star Wars, video games, and soccer.  Ballet, is most certainly NOT on his list of cool things to do on a weekend, unless perhaps you can somehow work in sets created from giant Lego blocks and dancers decked out in Storm Trooper costumes. 

But I was dying to see the Nutcracker again. It had been nearly two decades since my first venture into the enchanting world full of mice and men, magically growing Christmas trees, the Land of Sweets, and Sugar Plum fairies. And the music! Tchaikovsky’s enthralling score is one of the most well-know classical pieces in America; I dare anyone out there not to recognize at least a snippet of his grandiose waltzes or zippy Divertissemens which have grown into holiday staples. 

Not long after I clicked that tempting little “buy now” icon I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into.  I would have to dress my son up and make him sit still while girls in tutus pirouetted across the stage. There would be no popcorn or cartoon action to keep him glued to his seat.  I got nervous. Really nervous.

The venue was a lovely theater tucked into a corner of one of the largest convention centers in the country. My son equated it to the international airport for it’s massive parking lots and hanger-like exhibition space. Getting there was an adventure in itself. But once inside there were escalators! And food vendors! And kids everywhere. Hallelujah — I was not alone.

Little girls in festive velvet danced across the lobby, boys stood awkwardly in their Sunday best, and parents flashed looks wavering between pride and death threats. We rode the escalators some more as we waited for the doors to open.

Our seats were fantastic — orchestra left, about ten rows back — and a family with three boys (three!) sat behind us. ALL the children within earshot were on their best behavior; no one kicked my seat, cried, complained, or spilled popcorn in my lap (not that it was allowed inside anyway).  I felt as if I had crossed into a different dimension: I had entered the blissful parent zone.

The music started, and as the plush red velvet curtains rose, a chorus of “oohhs” rippled across the audience.  A little girl behind me actually gasped and stage whispered, “What the…!”  The performers — dozens of children and adults in their sparkling party finery —  flooded the stage. The scene was set. The children were enthralled.

My boy sat still, watching, listening, occasionally even dropping his jaw in awe, for the entire 60 minute plus first act.  Okay, maybe he started getting a little antsy during the last number, the Waltz of the Snowflakes  (one of my all-time favorite dances), but he remained engaged the entire time. He loved the choreographed fight scenes between the Nutcracker’s soldiers and mouse army, the sword play between the children, and the mysterious Drosselmeyer with his magical twirling cape. The pyrotechnics and cannon blasts lit up not only the theater, but each child’s imagination.

We rode the escalators a little more during the intermission to coax any stray wiggles out. I did not give into the tempting hot chocolate or candies offered. Though much of the ballet was to take place in the Land of Sweets, I didn’t need my kid on enough of a high on sugar to actually be there.

Act II was shorter but filled with more “real” ballet than the first half of the tale. While I lost myself in fantasy lands of graceful ballerinas leaping across the stage in their tea-length tulle, my son let loose a yawn and whispered, “Sorry, but this music makes me kinda sleepy.” Apparently, he is not fond of waltzes.  But he jumped back on board as the Cirque du Soliel-esque high-flying hoop dance wowed the crowds followed by the captivating antics of the Russian, Spanish, and Chinese dances.

Our kids are often more mature and intelligent than we give them credit for. Perhaps we should  hold them up to slightly higher standards more often; take them out of their comfort zone of crappy Nick shows and video games and introduce them to new worlds of wonders.  I can’t imagine how any young girl, devoted to the commercialized versions of pepto pink princesses and fairies, could not be awestruck by the spectacle of a real ballet. The characters float across the stage, their costumes more breathtaking than any cartoon version could conjure; the Sugarplum Fairy twirls as the real-life version of  the little plastic jewelry box figure we dreamed of becoming as girls, ourselves.  The dancers exemplify not only grace and beauty, but the rewards that years of determination and of diligent practice can reap. They show us real dreams come true. And that boys — ahem, men — can be dancers, too.

The ballet exposes our kids to the disappearing world of art, music, and dance. The Nutcracker is the perfect  production to aquatint newbies of all ages to this often daunting new realm: a ballet on training wheels, enjoyable for everyone. Give it a try. It will be worth it.

My boy insists he wants to see to the Nutcracker again next year. He just has one request: we have to take his father. I think that can be arranged.

I took my 8-year-old son to the ballet. And maybe you should too.

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