On the eve of another Nutcracker, Dance Kids struggles to keep twirling.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Lots of little girls want to be ballerinas when they grow up.
They start ballet lessons at the age of 3, can’t wait to wear their first pointe shoes and dream of dancing the part of Clara in The Nutcracker.
Key Felsinger, a 20-year-old dance major at UC Irvine, was one such girl. She grew up at the Carmel Academy of Performing Arts, first performed in Dance Kids Monterey County’s The Nutcracker at age 8 and got the part of Clara her senior year in high school. “Dance Kids has been one of the most memorable aspects of growing up,” she says.
Felsinger got to live the dream; other girls may not. This year’s Nutcracker, Dec. 10 – 13 at the Sunset Center, may be the last. Dance Kids is scheduled to shutter due to a funding shortage.
When Felsinger found out, it hit hard.
“I started crying,” she says. “I just can’t imagine it not happening. It’s been there for my whole life. It makes me sad for all the girls growing up.”
Last month, executive director Alan Richmond and his wife, Dance Kids founder Carol, told dancers and parents that the program didn’t have enough cash to continue the 17-year-old program – one that has allowed thousands to perform, offered scholarships to hundreds who could not afford dance classes and given countless more an otherwise impossible opportunity to see The Nutcracker – after this season.
In response, Carol received a letter from a 10-year-old girl who has performed in a handful of Dance Kids productions. “She said, ‘I’ve watched the Sugar Plum Fairy Dance; I know that inside and out. I’ve waited my whole life. What am I going to do?’”
“The difficult thing for me is the thought of failing these kids,” Carol says. “That’s what kills me.”
Dance Kids once won money from the state, until it cut arts funding. Foundation donations have dipped with the economy.
“There are over 600 nonprofits in Monterey County, and we’re all vying for the same dollars,” Alan says. “And the pot’s getting smaller.”
Every year, Dance Kids buses in students from South County to preview The Nutcracker for free. Many have never seen anything like it.
Now, some don’t know what they’ll do without it. That so many Dance Kids go onto college – 10 out of 11 this year – is more pleasing to Carol than the fact that two are dance majors. The program teaches them to juggle school, homework, family and friends with rehearsals. They learn to study algebra during dress rehearsals, in full costume, no less.
“There can be madness going on around them, people moving sets, and these kids are totally focused,” she says.
Carol tells the story of one mother, who, when told Dance Kids may shut its doors, became teary eyed.
“She said, ‘My child was at a very dark time as a teenager.’ The only thing that kept her going was rehearsals. This was a constant, a shining light. The woman said, ‘Had it not been for that, my child would not have gotten through this time.’”