For Ainsley Nelson, dancing under stage lights is a quintessential holiday tradition.
Nelson has taken part in the Ballet Slipper Conservatory’s production of the Nutcracker nearly every winter for the last 14 years.
“It sets the stage for my whole Christmas break and my whole Christmas season,” she said.
The nonprofit ballet studio’s performances will take place Dec. 10 and 11. The show will feature just 19 dancers, with each performing multiple roles — a small cast for the classic ballet, according to director Diane Geragotelis.
Nelson, an 18-year-old senior at Oak Harbor High School, will be dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. She joined Geragotelis’s studio when she was 4 years old and has danced in the Nutcracker almost every Christmas since.
During her years in the studio, she has danced most of the parts in the show. She was a mouse for her first several Nutcrackers, then appeared in the party scene in the first act and various dances in the second act throughout her ballet career. She even portrayed the lead role of Clara multiple times.
This year will be her second time dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“I’m very grateful and thankful to Miss Diane that she gave me Sugar Plum Fairy as a senior so that I can do it one more time before I go,” she said.
According to Nelson, the Sugar Plum Fairy has the most difficult dance in the show.
“I just need to do it,” she remembered thinking the first time she played the Sugar Plum Fairy four years ago. This year, as a stronger and more seasoned ballerina, she has shifted her focus to technique and executing the turns with precision.
This year, 14-year-old Tessa Lang will play Clara. Lang, a freshman at Oak Harbor High School, was one of two Claras in last year’s Nutcracker. This is her fourth year participating in the Ballet Slipper Conservatory’s annual production.
Like Nelson, Lang has been dancing since she was a little girl. For Lang, the Nutcracker is one of many joyful elements of the holiday season.
“I love Christmas, so I love everything about it,” she said.
Besides showing off the skills of talented Oak Harbor area youth dancers, the Ballet Slipper Conservatory Nutcracker incorporates unique local elements unlikely to be found in other productions of the traditional ballet.
For example, Nelson said the conservatory’s show includes dancers as camels in the Arabian Dance, something she has not seen in any other production of the ballet.
Conservatory board member Lynne Evans added that Director Geragotelis, in addition to choreographing and producing the show, hand sews every costume.
“Miss Diane has been teaching ballet in our community since the 1980s and has such an impact on the lives of her dancers,” Evans wrote in an email.
Nelson, who has been dancing under Geragotelis’s instruction since she was four years old, said she and the other dancers in the conservatory are close with the director as well as with one another.
“This group is just so uplifting and funny and fun to be around,” Nelson said. “I really, really love them and consider them my family.”
Performances of the Nutcracker will take place at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11 at the Oak Harbor High School auditorium. Tickets are available online at tbscoh.org or at the door. Tickets cost $16 for adults, $11 for seniors age 60 or higher and $10 for children under age 18.