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I’m not a drinker, but I was pretty sure the only way I was going to survive this was with tequila shots. My “plan” had failed and now I was committed to being a “party” mom for Gwinnett Ballet Theater’s Nutcracker.

So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is this: I have an intense dislike of people looking at me. This phobia is so bad that, the idea of putting on a big pouffy dress and standing up in front of a room full of people terrorized me to the point that I ditched all plans of the wedding I dreamed of and eloped.

When I worked for HGTV on commercial shoots, I was decidedly behind the scenes happily doing production work. The one time the director asked me to reach into a shot with just my hands to pick up a plate of hamburgers, I nearly had a panic attack. I frantically looked for real “talent” to come and do the task until I realized the director was getting peeved at my borderline hysterics. I sucked it up, picked up the plate, and my hands “starred” for all of half a second in a television commercial. I’m still traumatized.

So, how did I get myself into this Nutcracker mess? Love.

My daughter, Andie, shared that she felt I really didn’t appreciate her love of and dedication to dance. You see my middle son’s loves are art and running (two of the things I most adore) and her big loves are music and dance (things I enjoy but not to the level that she does). She felt there was a disconnect. I disagreed but she was persistent.

So, when the Gwinnett Ballet Theater asked for volunteers to be party parents, I signed up. Honestly, I thought I’d be told thanks but no thanks as the same group of core parents volunteer for these roles year after year. As a newcomer to the studio, I thought I’d be relegated to a behind the scenes role. I’d get brownie points with my daughter for “trying” without actually having to get up on stage.

Then the email showed up in my inbox. It said, “Thanks for volunteering to be a party parent. Your first rehearsal is this Saturday.” I was stunned. My nerves kicked in as I immediately came up with one hundred and one reason why I couldn’t do this. I hadn’t taken a dance class since third grade or been on stage since I sang The Good Ship Lollypop in a fifth grade musical. I’m too old/chubby/awkward/untalented/klutzy to actually be on stage with real dancers.

But this was for my daughter. This was a way for me to really experience what she goes through when she performs. This was my chance to share dance with her. Finally, I just decided to suck it up.

When I worked on commercial shoots, we called actors talking props. In the Nutcracker, I would be less than that. I would simply be a moving prop. As long as I could manage to not fall down on stage and keep my dress on, I convinced myself it would be alright. Everyone comes to the Nutcracker for the beautiful ballet dancing. As background, nobody would be looking at me.

This self-talk was how I got myself to the first rehearsal where I was taught twenty-four steps to twenty-four beats. Even though I was terrified and terrible, I was buoyed by kind advice and encouragement from the other party parents all of whom were either serious dancers in the past or who were veterans of the Nutcracker stage.

It turns out that my daughter was right. I had no real idea what it’s like to be in a major dance production. It took three rehearsals for me to get those measly twenty-four steps committed to memory. At the first dress rehearsal, my party husband and I hit our mark late and as he swung me under his arm for a turn I blanked, stumbling half a beat behind to keep up. Then there’s stage make-up and fake hair and the very voluminous dress not to mention smiling, nodding, and “acting” like I’m having a good time on stage. It was overwhelming to say the least.

I expected to be knee-knocking nervous before I went on stage the first time. Instead, I was so preoccupied with whether or not my hair piece and tiara were actually going to stay on my head that even before the Tchaikovsky score started, an eery calm had kicked in. I stood perfectly at ease on stage with the most supportive cast around me watching up close the most exquisite ballet dancing I’ve ever seen. I was so close that I had to step back from time to time to avoid a toe shoe in the eye. When my part was over, I walked off stage happy I had survived and ready to go again. Oh, and I did it all without a single drop of tequila.

I’ve learned a lot from this experience. First, there is no such thing as too much mascara. If you miss your mark or forget a step or are off beat, just smile and keep going. Nobody will notice. When in doubt, always put in more bobby pins and add more hair spray. It is also an absolute fact that everyone looks more beautiful when wearing a tiara.

Most importantly, I’ve been able to share in a small way the hard work, dedication, and effort that go into pulling off a stage production at this level. From the diligent efforts of the prop and costume departments, to lighting and directing, to the stage hands, to the dancers themselves, the level of passion and commitment necessary is mind boggling and nothing short of impressive.

The best part? Sharing all of this with my daughter.  I was backstage in the thick of it as she and the others got hair in place and make-up on and costumes secured. I was able to watch from the wings and on stage as she danced her various parts.

I’ve always respected dance as being physically demanding, but to watch these graceful creatures as they push their bodies to the limit on stage and to see them when they come off stage panting and sweating like the athletes they are only to jump right back into the spotlight to do it again smiling all the while and making it look like the easiest thing in the world…well, that’s just amazing. Being able to see the seasoned pro she and her fellow dancer are has been nothing short of a gift.


  1. I LOVE this! Oh my gosh, you are so brave! I wish I could have see you up there glowing under your sparkling tiara. You had me laughing this morning with this one. Xox

  2. I saw Andie dance “Arabian” in yesterday afternoon’s performance and she was, in a word, magnificent. You have every reason to be proud, proud, proud. My only regret is that you weren’t on stage with her. And now I’m off do so some online shopping. Me thinks me needs a tiara.

    • Thanks for the kind words regarding Andie. I’m so glad you went to see her. Everyone needs a tiara, Pam. We can go shop for one, if you’re game. I can pick up a tu-tu too. Will make girl’s nights more interesting. You in J?

      • I’m so excited to be be going to see this! I am going on Friday night – will Andy be dancing the Arabian part Friday night?

        And – I’M so IN! When do we go shop!

        • I’m not sure what parts Andie is dancing but I do know that I’ll be on stage Friday night. I’ll look for you after the show.

  3. Denise, I salute you for pushing your boundaries to share what your daughter wanted to “bond” with you over… on stage, no less. This was just a happy, happy post — without tequila. 😉

  4. I cried reading this. Such a sweet act of love for your daughter. Such bravery. Love.
    I got my daughter a real life tiara for her 16th birthday. Perhaps I should wear it to my 50th {choke} birthday on Saturday, which I wish we were spending in ATL. Wish I knew y’all would be in this a few weeks earlier. I certainly could have gotten the hubs to spring for tix and we could mix business with pleasure. On my Christmas list for next year, for sure!!
    Great post.

    • I definitely think you should break out the tiara for the big 5-0! It’s transformative. Our daughters may be our princesses but only because we are the queens. ; )

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