Adult Ballerinas in The Nutcracker

Performing in The Nutcracker isn’t just for kids or professional dancers. I’m excited to report that there were five adult ballet students in Birmingham Ballet’s 2014 Nutcracker! Meet the cast below. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try performing yourself!

ABP- KellyKelly Milam

Role: Clara’s Mother

How long have you been dancing ballet as an adult?

I took ballet classes as a child, but didn’t pick it back up until I was 26 or 27. I was assisting a teacher at the dance school where I now teach and decided to get back into ballet since I have always loved it so. I was excited to be in the recital numbers along with the teenagers. I just never revealed my age. I guess they just wondered. Now that I am 48, and have been dancing ever since that first recital, I still don’t reveal my age. I still want people “wondering.”

What inspired you to start performing in Nutcracker as an adult?

My mother saw a poster advertising auditions for Birmingham Ballet’s Nutcracker back in 1999. Knowing how much I loved to dance, she told me about the audition and encouraged me to attend. I was so excited to be a part of the performance and loved every minute of it. I was a party mom and encouraged a friend of mine to be a party dad. He only did that one performance, but I was hooked from then on!

Did you ever perform in Nutcracker in K-12 or college? If so, what were some of the roles you had?

I never performed in the Nutcracker as a child or teen, but I remember seeing it one time when I was about seven years old. I remember wishing I could be on the stage.

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Middle-Age American Grand Prix (MAGP) Exhibition

My daughter’s ensemble performed well enough at Youth America Grand Prix’s Semi-Finals in Providence, Rhode Island to advance to the Finals in New York City. After countless rehearsals, one dancer’s father was asked if he had knew the music by now. “Know the music?” he chuckled, “Ha! I know not just the music … I know the steps now!”

The parents all murmured assent – we have listened to the dance’s contemporary piano piece so many times that we can’t help but have memorized the choreography.

“I have a great idea,” I joked. “How about a we start a Middle-Age American Grand Prix (MAGP instead of YAGP) Exhibition where the parents of all the dancers perform their kids’ pieces? Our performances would give the competitors a break and make them all look good! Instead of First Position, we could be the subject of the documentary Fifth (or Third) Position!”

Of course we all laughed at this hypothetical event but the more I thought about this idea, the more I realized that nearly every ensemble member has a parent who is (or was) a dancer. Five of us have performed in Olney Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker productions for the past few years: one person as Clara’s mother Frau Silberhaus as well as three fathers and me as Party Scene parents … plus one father who also dances with Mother Gigogne/Ginger in the second act.

Outside of The Nutcracker, our collective dance experience includes:

  • five mothers who currently study or previous studied ballet (a couple of us through pointe)
  • three mothers who have studied tap
  • at least one mother studied who jazz seriously
  • and one father was a national competitor in both tango ballroom dancing and aerobic dance.

As an added bonus, one mother and two fathers (non-dancers) who are professional musicians – and have contributed their talents to past Olney Ballet Theatre productions — could play piano, violin and trombone for our MAGP performance! Yes, I could feel our MAGP performance coming together, at least as comic relief during this high-pressure competition. Now if we only could coordinate rehearsal times between our kids’ rehearsal times …

Guest Post: Performing Character Roles

Party-Scene-Bham-Ballet-2012 1

 Party Scene in Birmingham Ballet’s Nutcracker

Adult ballet students often find themselves cast as party guests, mothers and fathers, royal court members, and villagers. On the surface, these can seem like “little” parts. But, as veteran performers know, character roles are challenging, rewarding, and worthwhile–not to mention being important to the plots of story ballets! Mikko Nissinen, artistic director of Boston Ballet, told Pointe Magazine, “In a character part, the dancer doesn’t have the technical framework of a traditional role to fall back on. It’s all acting. People really have to go deep into their emotional side, and it takes guts to get out there and do that.”

Ideas for Preparing for Character Roles…

Think about the “who, what, and why” of your character –what motives them, how they respond to different situations, and why they respond this way. If your character doesn’t have a name or back story, create one yourself.

In her video Becoming a Character – NutcrackerKathryn Morgan, a former New York City Ballet soloist, says that you should ask yourself the five key questions that actors are taught to inquire about their characters:

“Who am I?

“Where am I going?”

“Who am I going to meet when I get there?”

“What do I want?”

“What extent am I willing to go to get that?”

Morgan also advises that you consider, “What is the music telling me?” She says, “The music is your guide to your character.”

Watch movies with characters similar to one you’re going to play. 

When New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin was preparing for the role of Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty, she turned classic childhood films for inspiration. She told Pointe Magazine, “I called my dad and asked him to send me tapes of every Disney movie that had an evil witch! I took a lot from 101 Dalmations’ Cruella de Vil in particular.”

The first year that I was cast as the feisty, flirtatious maid in the Nutcracker party scene, I used Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolitte from My Fair Lady as inspiration for interpreting my part. Like my character, Eliza is working-class, spirited, romantic and enjoys dancing and chocolates. I also liked Eliza’s animated body language and I tried to imbue some of that energy into my performance.

If your character’s personality is more open to interpretation, such as a party parent or royal court member, period dramas or movies and tv series from the fantasy genre might be a place to find a character to inspire yours.

Remember, you don’t have to directly mimic every aspect of a film character, you can just take elements of their personality, expressions, and body language that you like best and that work well for your role.

Watch performances of ballet character parts on YouTube, DVDs, or live if possible.

Do strengthening exercises like Pilates. Movement is part of acting and greater strength will improve your overall movement quality. This will help your performance even if your character doesn’t dance or isn’t supposed to be graceful. American Ballet Theatre director Kevin McKenzie explained to PlaybillArts, “Character performances must be defined by energy—by how the dancer moves.”

Film yourself rehearsing at home. Experiment with different expressions, reactions, and gestures. See which ones you like best.

Have fun! Character roles are great opportunity to explore your dramatic side and become more fully immersed in the fairy tale onstage.


Photo by Rachel Hellwig.


Pointe Magazine: Quite A Character

PlaybillArts: In Character with ABT: Exploring Character Roles in Ballet

Becoming a Character – Nutcracker | Kathryn Morgan:

Rehearsal of Carabosse for the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty:

Beginner Ballerina Profile: Rachel Hellwig of Clara’s Coffee Break

photo_me_3This week’s profile is  of Rachel Hellwig, who has danced since age 13 and runs a ballet-themed blog, Clara’s Coffee Break Stone Soup magazine published her ballet story, Nutcracker Dreams, when she was 13. Last month, Dance Advantage published her article The Sci-Fi Origins of the Nutcracker’s Snow Scene and Other Fun Facts.

 When did you start doing ballet as an adult? I actually started at age 13 in a ballet class designed for older beginners, but I have never trained beyond recreational level. I’m now in my twenties and take class once a week, so I consider myself an adult ballet student.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Not before age 13.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I decided to take ballet as a teenager after I read the classic children’s book Ballet Shoes. The story really captures the magic of performing and being in a theater. It makes you want to be part of that magic.

 Where do you take classes?

Birmingham Ballet Academy in Birmingham, Alabama.

 What is your favorite part about ballet?

I love how ballet teaches you to improve your overall quality of movement and isn’t just about “learning steps”. It’s so neat how you feel stronger and lighter and have more “spring in your step” when you finish a class. I also love that ballet classes are done to classical music or music that has been arranged for the piano.

What is your least favorite part?

My least favorite part is the occasional physical pain. Although, one benefit of non-intense training is that you are much less prone to injuries and wear and tear.

 Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

Listening to classical music and soundtracks is my inspiration because it immediately puts ballet scenes in my head and makes me feel like dancing. I am also inspired by watching other dancers. My current favorite ballerinas are (not in order): Sara Mearns, Alina Cojocaru, and Diana Vishneva.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

If I had to narrow it down to one thing, I suppose it would be music. Whenever I hear beautiful or exciting music, I feel like dancing. It’s amazing how an arrangement of sounds can create that response within you.

 Do you take any other dance classes?

No, just ballet.

 What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

Blogging, writing, animation, listening to music and audiobooks.

 What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

Listen to your body and don’t push it too hard or take unnecessary risks. No one can master ballet, so settle in and enjoy the wonderful process of learning instead of making goals about how soon you’ll be able to do a double pirouette. I think that only ends in frustration and needless feelings of failure.

 Do you have a blog?

Yes, I have a blog, it’s ballet-themed. Here’s the link:


New Ballet Resources Page

English: A performance of The Nutcracker balle...

English: A performance of The Nutcracker ballet, 1981 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Over the holidays, I’m going to be putting together a page with all the great posts my fellow ballet bloggers have already written about. I’ve already got several in mind, but I wanted to give everyone a chance to submit the posts they have written or posts they’ve read by others that they think are great. I think this will be a really useful way for beginners to find all sorts of information about ballet quickly and easily.


So you can either leave the post in a comment, fill out the form below, or shoot me an e-mail at


Also, don’t forget to enter the giveaway here, and remember, for each of your entries to count, you must post a separate comment for each! (And you can enter, say, for liking the page, if you had already previously liked it before the contest began).



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