My daughter loves ballet. Although she’s only been dancing since January, she transforms when she puts on those magic ballet slippers. She spouts of the names of the moves like a professional: arabesque, plie, passé, chasse, releve. And a couple of months ago, it occurred to me.
She is ready.
So on Black Friday we put on fancy dresses, curled our hair, and headed out for my favorite holiday tradition: The Nutcracker ballet.
I love the story. I love the music. I love the ballet. I love the name Clara. I love the pesky little brother who ruins everything. I love all the different characters and cultures that dance before Clara and her prince, and I especially love the very beginning of the ballet where the families dance together, in and around each other.
Somehow, every year as I get a bit older, the reality of The Nutcracker sinks in a little deeper. This is not just a beautiful Christmas fantasy put to music by Tchaikovsky.
This is a story about growing up.
At the beginning of the party, Clara is still a little girl in a party dress. By the end of the story, she is treated as a queen.
What makes the difference?
Perhaps the fact that her toy nutcracker becomes a living prince teaches Clara how to love.
Perhaps caring for her fallen soldier, a toy though he may be, increases Clara’s capacity for compassion.
Perhaps having to forgive her little brother for breaking her most prized possession helps Clara learn to forgive others.
Perhaps it was the part where she had to be courageous and fight a hard battle, proving to herself that she is capable of courage.
Perhaps it was the journey she took to a faraway land and the people she met there. Time away from home helps a girl grow up too.
In the story, Clara doesn’t age more than a few hours, but when the story ends, she is much older than she was before. The Nutcracker is her ticket to becoming a woman.
Perhaps Herr Drosselmeyer knew that, like Wendy Darling in Peter Pan, Clara is on the verge of no longer being a little girl. Instead of a doll, as all the other little girls get for Christmas, he gives her a soldier. Instead of making the Nutcracker instantly better, he gives Clara a charge to watch over him carefully as he mends. Instead of setting things to right with the chime of the clock at midnight, he sends his goddaughter on an adventure, even if it was only in her dreams.
What happens to Clara when she wakes up in the morning? Is she more kind, more noble, more regal? Does she begin to act like the princess-the queen–that the citizens of the Land of Sweets see her as? Is she a little quicker to forgive when she is wronged? Does she realize that she can fight hard battles, overcome evil, and yet show mercy? Does she have a better understanding of her divine nature? Does she grow up, have a family, and pass the story along to her daughter when that daughter is ready?
I hope so. Oh, I hope so.