Dancers have a love-hate relationship with Nutcracker. For many, it was the first ballet they saw; for even more, it was the first they ever performed. But, despite the nostalgia, December’s relentless marathon of shows takes a toll. If Nutcracker music is starting to make you a little loopy, you’re not alone! 

Abigail Mentzer
Soloist at Pennsylvania Ballet
First roles: Angel and Soldier in The Nutcracker movie with Macaulay Culkin
Favorite role: Lead Marzipan and Sugar Plum
Performances per season: About 30
All-time favorite Sugar Plum: Darci Kistler
How do you stay sane during Nutcracker season? I sew. It takes my mind off the day. And my gym is across the street from our theater, so in between shows—some Saturdays we have three in a day—I’ll go to the hot tub.
How do you keep up your stamina? I swim laps about three times a week. It loosens up my joints. I always feel much more open and taller afterwards.
What goes through your mind when you hear Nutcracker music in a store? Honestly? Anxiety.
Favorite holiday traditions? Icing my feet! And I love to escape to New York City, because that’s where I grew up.
Biggest Nutcracker nightmare? In my first year doing Sugar Plum, my shoe came off near the end of my variation! I had to do the whole greeting scene with it practically off my foot. I thought nothing could go wrong after that—but the next day, my partner was horribly sick, and in the pas when we did the no-handed fish, he didn’t feel me start to slide down. My belly was basically lying on the floor!

Lia Cirio
Principal at Boston Ballet

First role: Party kid
Favorite roles: Dew Drop and Snow Queen
Performances per season: 40–45
All-time favorite Sugar Plum: Larissa Ponomarenko
How do you stay sane? Halfway through the run, I’ll usually be like, “Okay, let’s go Christmas shopping!” I love trying to get the best presents, something the person would never guess—I kind of go crazy, researching online. And I’ll shop for a New Year’s dress, or decorate my dressing room with lights.
Do you exchange gifts with castmates? For “merde” gifts, we all go to this Chinese store down the street and try to find the most random stuff—like Sharpies. One time, someone gave me a baby blanket, which I still use as a mat to stretch on!
What do you do on Christmas? My brother Jeffrey is also in the company, so our parents usually come up here. My mom makes dinner, and we’ll invite over other dancers whose families aren’t nearby. Last year, we had two days off, so we actually got to go home to Philadelphia for the first time in seven years.
Any blooper stories? Not personally, but we have a story that’s epic at Boston Ballet: We were doing an afternoon show for children, and James Whiteside and Kathleen Breen Combes were dancing Arabian for the first time. All of the sudden, a girl from the audience crawls up on stage and starts running around screaming! They just keep dancing, and it becomes a pas de trois. The girl runs backstage and Craig, our stage manager, tries to catch her, but she’s scared—he’s a big guy. Then Drosselmeyer runs after her, and she’s screaming and running back and forth onstage. She starts to go toward the pit, and suddenly one of our “Russian” guys runs out, like a hero, and scoops her up.

Roddy Doble
Corps de Ballet at American Ballet Theatre

First role: Soldier. I was 5 and I wasn’t even doing ballet yet; I was in my town’s local karate school.
Favorite roles: Cavalier, Arabian, Spanish, Russian—anytime I get the chance to really dance.
Performances per season: 20–30
How do you stay sane? Take it one show at a time. If you start the countdown too early, you’ll drive yourself crazy.
How do you keep up your stamina? I’ll confess to being a total gym rat. I do a lot of cross-training, and take classes in mixed martial arts and Krav Maga, which is Israeli self-defense. If I have a ridiculously demanding show day, adding the gym on top of it is too much, but otherwise, I want to make sure that I get my heart rate up.
Most unique Nutcracker you’ve done? When I performed as a guest in the Netherlands. Nutcracker isn’t a big tradition there, so they had a very unusual version. Instead of Mother Ginger, they had a giant rabbi—and these kids ran out in sequin costumes and started break-dancing!
What goes through your head when you hear Nutcracker music in a store? Oh, it’s awful. Painful. Especially when you’re younger, you start rehearsing so early in the year that by the time December comes around, you’re thinking, If I hear this music one more time, I’ll convert to Judaism!

Lauren King
Corps de Ballet at New York City Ballet

First role: Soldier
Favorite role: Dewdrop
Performances per season: About 50
How do you keep up your stamina? I usually eat two dinners, one before the show and one after. Sometimes I’ll cook a big meal at the beginning of the week, like pasta with vegetables in it, and then carry it with me to eat before performances. I don’t like dancing on an empty stomach.
Any Nutcracker traditions? In the dressing room, during the halfway point of each show we used to always play the song “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi: “Whoa, we’re halfway there...”
Any blooper stories? One night during “Waltz of the Flowers,” a big piece of marley tape came up on the stage. I knew it’d be pretty distracting. At the very end, when we posed and bowed, the tape was right in front of me, so I did a huge swoop down and ripped it off.
What goes through your head when you hear Nutcracker music in a store? It’s almost like The Red Shoes. You can’t help but want to do the choreography to it. No one else even notices the music, but inside, you’re doing the dance.

Meaghan Grace Hinkis
First Artist at The Royal Ballet

First role: Clara
Favorite role: Clara in The Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker
Performances per season: 25–30
All-time favorite Sugar Plums: Marianela Nuñez and Alina Cojocaru
Best gift you’ve received backstage? Last year at my first Royal Ballet show as Clara, I got a bouquet of flowers from the corps at ABT, where I used to dance. It was incredible to have that support from such great girls back in New York.
Any Nutcracker traditions? We decorate the dressing rooms. It’s a little competition, and whichever row has the best decorations wins.
Oddest Nutcracker memory? Over the years, I think I’ve eaten pounds of snow. There’s so much running around in the snow scenes in both ABT’s and The Royal Ballet’s productions that you swallow a ton.
What do you do on Christmas Day? This past year, my whole family came over to London. My brother, sister and I woke up early to open our stockings, like little kids. We went to dinner at a traditional English restaurant, and just spent the day together, which is really what it’s about for me.

Courtney Elizabeth
Soloist at San Francisco Ballet

First role: Mouse. Last year marked 20 years of doing Nutcracker, so my mom gave me a crystal figurine of a ballerina to celebrate.
Favorite role: As a child, Polichinelle. I’d wanted to be one for several years, and it was an amazing thing!
Performances per season: 30–35
How do you stay sane? Because we do two shows a day, every day, it can start to feel like the movie Groundhog Day. The best thing is to inject a little spontaneity, like going out to lunch with a friend. And I like to have a different motivation for each performance. Some days, I’ll focus on my port de bras, or in the party scene I’ll add a different adjective in front of my role, like “Today I’m the spunky maid.” Or the “flustered maid.” In the past, we’ve tried to count how many balancés were in the “Waltz of the Flowers”—I think it was upwards of 70.
Any blooper stories? So many! Since I play the maid in the party scene, our master of props has me do his dirty work. I’ll be carrying glasses around and he’ll say, “Something fell into the trap door. Can you go dig it out?” Or, “We forgot to turn the remote control couch on! Will you go flip the switch on the bottom?” There were several days that I think I saved the show!
Favorite Nutcracker memory? On Christmas Eve, our orchestra plays carols as the audience leaves. Two years ago when I was in the corps de ballet, I was taking off toward the dressing rooms, and one of our ballet mistresses was chasing me down saying, “Helgi wants to talk to you!” I thought, Oh no, what did I do wrong? He pulled me and a couple of my colleagues over and said, “You’ve been dancing so well this season that I want to make you soloists, effective immediately.” Meanwhile, the orchestra was playing “Joy to the World” in the background. 

Ashley Rivers is a writer and dancer in Boston. She is currently a Calderwood Fellow in writing at Emerson College.

The Conversation
News
Pacific Northwest Ballet in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Thanksgiving is just days away, and while to some that means family and football, to bunheads it means one thing only: Nutcracker is coming. Looking for a Nut near you? We know that your next few weeks will be too busy with rehearsals to keep your eye on ballet news, so we've decided to help you out by rounding up 62 of our nation's Nutcrackers, state by state.

We're not perfect! If we missed a major Nutcracker production, we want to know. Email clansky@dancemedia.com for consideration.

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The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

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popular
Yu-Chieh Chao performs with the PBT Company in PBT: New Works. Photo by Aimee DiAndrea

When the artistic director of a professional ballet company saunters into the studio during school classes, students take notice. At Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, however, it's not just eager pre-professional students who pay extra attention. Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr watches carefully, taking note of standout students, individual talent and, of course, who might be the right fit for the company.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre added six PBT School students to its roster this year, and the presence of the ubiquitous artistic director made an impact on the preparedness of those students and the decision to sign them to the company.

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Ballet Stars
New York City Ballet soloist Claire Kretzschmar as the Sugarplum Fairy in Balanchine's "The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

What bunhead hasn't dreamed of dancing Clara in Nutcracker? But with so many young dancers aspiring to the role, casting disappointments are inevitable each year. Today, three professionals share their childhood Clara casting disappointments and what helped them move on and learn from the experience. We hope their stories will encourage you this Nutcracker season!

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Screenshot via YouTube

One Sergei Polunin is great but two, three, or four Polunins, that's something we can really get behind. And now we don't even have to go to an alternative universe to enjoy multiple Polunin clones. In Hozier's latest music video, "Movement" the legendary ballet dancer's drool-worthy technique is on full display as multiple versions of Polunin break out dancing. And though this isn't the first time the ballet superstar has teamed up with Hozier, this performance is even more haunting than the pair's 2013 collaboration in the "Take Me to Church" video.

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Ballet Training
All photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe, modeled by Payge Lecakes of Manhattan Youth Ballet.

A shallow plié can be frustrating for any dancer. But even if you think you've reached your limit, a deeper, juicier plié may be achievable, says Karen Clippinger, professor at California State University, Long Beach, and author of Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology. "Many dancers can improve the depth of their plié through persistent stretching and careful attention to optimal body alignment," she says. Barring any structural issues that would shorten your plié, such as bone spurs at the front of the ankle, these three exercises will help you access your full range.

You'll need:

  • a 1/2- to 1-inch thick book
  • a Thera-band
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Ballet Stars
Cuba's Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso, one of the four theaters in use during the festival. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

Anyone attending the National Ballet of Cuba's biennial Havana International Ballet Festival can expect an adventure that is equal parts treasure hunt and lottery, amidst a cornucopia of choices. This year's festival, the 26th, was no exception, offering 25 programs in four theaters. The event, held October 28-November 6, was also notable for the unanticipated absence of 96-year-old Alicia Alonso, the host company's founder and Cuba's ballerina assoluta. Due to flagging health, Alonso was unable to make her customary opening night appearance, where she would have been seated alongside Cuba's new President, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

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Just for fun
SFB corps de ballet dancer Miranda Silveira in Athleta. Photo Courtesy Athleta.

Just in time for Nutcracker season (and the cold weather that has us layering on our coziest warmups), fitness brand Athleta teamed up with San Francisco Ballet for their first Athleta Dance collection. Available beginning November 27, the capsule collection will include designs in women's and girl's sizes inspired by and created in collaboration with the dancers of SFB.

Of course, this isn't the first time a major athletic wear brand has teamed up with professional ballerinas. Under Armour has now launched two collections with American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland, and most recently, Royal Ballet principal Francesca Hayward created limited-edition designs with Lululemon.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Kyle Froman for Pointe Magazine.

In and out of the studio, BalletX's Skyler Lubin pays as much attention to the quality of her clothing as she does the style. "I like brands like Yumiko and Adidas when I'm dancing because they have cute designs, but they hold up well, too," she says. Lubin saves her brighter colors for summer and likes to keep things seasonal with earth tones for fall—muted blues and greens are her go-tos.

"I love Zimmermann, Reformation and Zara," Lubin says of the staple brands in her off-duty wardrobe. "Lately, I've been into secondhand stores because you can get designer clothes for much cheaper. And, I've been using the Poshmark app because I can buy and sell clothes." She adds with a laugh, "I usually spend the money I make, but it's a good trade." Being able to sell items on the app comes in handy, as Lubin enjoys staying on top of fashion trends. "I really like Arielle Charnas from the blog Something Navy, but just scrolling through Instagram is a fun way to get new ideas and see different styles," she says.

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Ballet Stars
Still via Youtube.

Throughout the last quarter of the 10th century Cynthia Harvey was a force in the ballet world. She had the unique distinction of dancing as a principal ballerina on both sides of the Atlantic, with American Ballet Theatre and then at The Royal Ballet, where she was the first American dancer ever to hold that position. A dynamo with impeccable style, her polished technique was matched only by her power. In this 1984 performance of a variation from Paquita, she bursts from the wing with a tidal wave of energy that carries her throughout the entire solo.

Paquita - Cynthia Harvey www.youtube.com

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Ballet Training
Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield/Unsplash

I want to be a professional ballerina, but I am currently a freshman at a boarding school where the dance program is nowhere near the level I need to get there. What can I do? —Lucy

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News
From left: Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Michael Curley, Courtesy Cincinnati Zoo.

Yesterday Cincinnati Ballet announced an exciting addition to this year's Nutcracker cast: a character based on Fiona, the world's most famous hippopotamus.

Fiona was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in January 2017. Six weeks premature, she weighed only 29 pounds at birth as opposed to the standard 55-120, and required round-the-clock care from dedicated zoo staff. Cincinnati Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit even got involved. The zoo chronicled her progress on Facebook, creating the heart-warming Fiona Show (see the first episode below). The baby hippo's story went viral, winning hearts in Cincinnati and around the world.

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News
Raffaella Stroik. Photo via stlouisballet.org

Update: Raffaella Stroik's body was found near a boat ramp in Florida, Missouri on Wednesday morning. According to the South Bend Tribune, the cause of death has not yet been released and the investigation remains open. Foul play is not suspected. A funeral Mass has been scheduled for Wednesday, November 20 at the Sacred Heart Basilica at the University of Notre Dame. Our thoughts are with her friends and family.

Raffaella Stroik, a 23-year-old dancer with the Saint Louis Ballet, went missing on Monday.

Her car was found with her phone inside in a parking lot near a boat ramp in Mark Twain Lake State Park—130 miles away from St. Louis. On Tuesday, the police began an investigation into her whereabouts.

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popular
Valencia Hochberg of Ballet Academy East in an A Wish Come True romantic tutu. Photo by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

From tiny floral accents to full-on blossom embellishments, there's a stage-worthy take on your favorite feminine pattern.

Check out this behind-the-scenes video from our tutu shoot, and then see our full array of florals for all seasons in the gallery below.

Behind the Scenes: Flower Power Tutus www.youtube.com


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News
Simulations of An's "Marie . T" prosthetic design, via jaehyunan.com

There's a new tool that lets amputee ballet dancers perform on pointe. As reported in Dezeen, an architecture and design magazine, industrial designer Jae-Hyun An has created a prosthesis he calls the"Marie . T" (after Marie Taglioni, of course) that allows dancers with below-the-knee amputations to do pointe work.

A carbon fiber calf absorbs shock while a stainless steel toe and rubber platform allow a dancer to both turn and grip the floor to maintain balance. What it doesn't allow the dancer to do? Roll down to demi-pointe or flat.

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Ballet Training
Photo by Quinn Wharton.

The largest performance studio at the Fernando Alonso National School of Ballet in Havana, Cuba, is packed with lower school students, seated helter-skelter around the edges of its new sprung floor. They move over to make room for photographers and visitors in town for the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival, who have come from as far away as Mexico, England and the United States. They are all at the academy, known world-wide for its rigorous adherence to a scientific methodology painstakingly developed by ballet master Fernando Alonso, because Aurora Bosch is giving a mixed-level master class to the upper school, of which she is a graduate, becoming one of its first teachers at the age of 19. Bosch, known as one of the "Four Jewels" of the Cuban National Ballet (along with Loipa Araújo, Josefina Méndez and Mirta Plá), is now based in London, but earlier this month she returned to Havana to attend and participate in the festival.

Shortly afterwards, the school's director Ramona de Saá invited me to speak with her and Bosch about the expanding focus of this distinguished school that has produced such outstanding dancers as Carlos Acosta, Lorena and Lorna Feijóo, José Manuel Carreño, and a host of others who have danced with first-rate companies the world over.

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Ballet Stars
Emma Love Suddarth and her husband, PNB soloist Price Suddarth. relax along the Seine river. Photo by Lindsay Thomas.

It's Monday, June 25. Armed with neck pillows, compression socks and loads of coffee, we are ready for our flight to Paris! Les Étés de la Danse, a French festival held at the beautiful La Seine Musicale theater, invited Pacific Northwest Ballet for its 2018 season. Half of the company will arrive the first week to participate in its Hommage à Jerome Robbins celebration with a handful of other companies. The rest will join the second week for a PNB-only residency.

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Ballet Training
Wendy Whelan teaching at Jacob's Pillow's Ballet Program. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow.

Last month The School at Jacob's Pillow announced a major change to its historic summer ballet program, which boasts alumni at companies including American Ballet Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet and Dutch National Ballet. This summer, rather than focusing on coaching dancers in the traditional, story-driven classical repertoire, the intensive makes the shift to contemporary ballet. Directed by former Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet director Alexandra Damiani and BalletX co-founder Matthew Neenan, the Contemporary Ballet Program will work to engage students in the development of new work and the ever-adapting repertoire (including pointe work) it requires.

Former New York City Ballet prima and longtime Jacob's Pillow participant Wendy Whelan played a large role in the decision making process. We touched base with Whelan to hear about what went into this decision, and whether she thinks that this focus on contemporary training represents a growing trend in the ballet world.

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Ballet Careers
Knowing your rights can help you steer clear of toxic dance companies. Getty Images

I was applying to audition for this ballet company, and the form asked if I had a history of mental issues (i.e., eating disorders, anxiety, depression) and to give a detailed description of them and steps taken for treatment. Is this something that companies normally take into account during auditions? Moreover, are they allowed to ask this? I felt so strongly about not wanting to give that information that I decided not to apply. —Melanie

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Ballet Stars
Galina Ulanova and Nikolai Fadeyechev in "Giselle." Screenshot via YouTube.

The final moments of Giselle's second act are some of the most hauntingly beautiful in all of ballet: from the pas de deux between Giselle's betrayed spirit and the man she still loves, to the wilis' cold rejection, to Albrecht's heart-wrenching desperation as the curtain closes. The Bolshoi Ballet's late prima ballerina assoluta, Galina Ulanova, is among the most legendary interpreters of the ballet's titular role, admired around the world for her ability to utterly transform into character. Alongside her frequent partner Nikolai Fadeyechev, also a former leading dancer with the Bolshoi, their performance is an offering of sensitivity that stirs us even decades later.

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Ballet Careers
Rosenfield in Dances Patrelle's Yorkville Nutcracker. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Rosenfield.

Shoshana Ronsenfield's career has not followed a straight path. In a surprising move, the born-and-raised New Yorker left a burgeoning career at New York City Ballet in 2012 to study economics at Barnard College. Upon graduating, Rosenfield spent six months freelancing with companies including New Chamber Ballet and Tom Gold Dance before spending two years working in global management at Goldman Sachs (and dancing on the side).

Now Rosenfield is on to a new chapter: She's just completed a boot camp in computer coding, and is currently doing a coding teaching fellowship. But she's still dancing. This weekend, Rosenfield will appear in Tom Gold Dance's fall season at Florence Gould Hall. We caught up with Rosenfield to hear all about how she's balanced college and career and how she's learned that it is possible to do it all.

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Reverence
Xander Parish in Balanchine's "Apollo." Photo by Valentin Baranovsky, courtesy Mariinsky Ballet.

What do you enjoy more: performing or being in the studio?
Performing. My coaches understand that I'm not a studio dancer—sometimes, in the studio, it can go quite horrendously. They'll say: It's okay, we know onstage you can do it.

In reaching the top, how much was talent and how much was sweat?
A lot more sweat than talent. I've got certain attributes: long legs, nice feet. That's a blessing, but I wasn't naturally coordinated. I was called Bambi in school because I couldn't really control what I had. I was a very late developer: I got my strength together when I was maybe 27.

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Viral Videos
Josephine Lee takes Chicago. Photo Courtesy Lee.

Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's final stop: Chicago's Joffrey Ballet. She touches base with Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet and the Joffrey Academy of Dance.

Ashley Wheater on the Joffrey Academy of Dance youtu.be

Missed Lee's stops at Ballet West, Colorado Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theatre, Oklahoma City Ballet or Kansas City Ballet? Check them out now!

Trending
Sara Mearns and Joshua Bergasse said "I do" in a beachside ceremony on November 3. Photo by Perry Vaile Photography, Courtesy of Brides.

If you follow New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns on Instagram, you'll have noticed that for the past several months, her feed has included wedding prep pics in addition to her usual performance posts and cross-training clips. This past weekend, the big day finally arrived, and Mearns married Broadway and television choreographer Joshua Bergasse in a dreamy beach ceremony in North Carolina.

And if you were hoping Mearns' wedding day would include a bit of ballet, she didn't disappoint. Not only were some familiar NYCB faces in the bridal party and at the reception, but Mearns made sure to include a nod or two to her career. Luckily, Mearns also spent the day with Brides magazine, letting them in on the ceremony and the reception to exclusively capture all of the best moments.

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