Nutcracker Survival Tips: 6 Pros on Making It Through the Holiday Marathon

Tulsa Ballet's Jennifer Grace. Photo Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Six pros reveal their most creative tricks for making it through everyone's favorite holiday marathon.


Alana Griffith: Artist, Milwaukee Ballet

Griffith in rehearsal for Milwaukee Ballet's "Waltz of the Flowers." Photo by Timothy O'Donnell, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet.

Favorite role: Clara

"Clara was my first soloist role and the first role I did where my character danced through the entire ballet. I liked playing with different ways of making her sweet and lovable or bratty and funny. Switching from Clara to the corps to divertissements makes the rehearsal process exciting and challenging."


Number of Nutcrackers per season: 17–18

Pre-Warm-Up: “In the morning I take a hot bath for 5–7 minutes as a way to pre-warm my muscles before class."

Multitasking Tape: “If I have a quick change into pointe shoes, I rip a piece of soft, white tape off my toes and use it to hold my ribbons."

Conjuring Calm: “I take a homeopathic supplement called Quietude, which helps me wind down after a show."


Miranda Silveira: Corps de ballet, San Francisco Ballet

Silveira in rehearsal with SFB. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Favorite role: Spanish

“It's a very energetic and dynamic part, and there's a lot of character dancing."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: approximately 33

Keep Toasty: “When I'm doing Maid or Party Parent in the Party Scene, I wear legwarmers under the long dress so I'm ready for Snow."

Warm Toes: “I stick my pointe shoes under the heater at the theater to warm them up."

Listen Closely: “Take advantage of the differences between each conductor by really listening to the changes in the music."


Eva Burton: Company artist, Oregon Ballet Theatre

Burton (center) in OBT's "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by James McGrew, Courtesy OBT.

Favorite role: Sugar Plum Fairy

“I love that in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, the Sugar Plum Fairy does her variation at the beginning of Act II surrounded by the angels. Sharing the stage with young students reminds me that every audience is full of children who are seeing ballet for the first time."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: 15–19

Time Your Hydration: “I drink water well before the show so I can stay focused but not have to go to the bathroom once I'm in costume."

Pointe Shoe Prep: “I sew as many pointe shoes as possible before we even get to the theater."

Check Off Christmas Shopping: “I do all of my Christmas shopping before Nutcracker!"


Jennifer Grace: Demi-soloist, Tulsa Ballet

Grace in Tulsa Ballet's Snow scene. Photo Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Favorite role: Maid of Honor, in “Waltz of the Flowers"

“In Marcello Angelini's Nutcracker, the Maid of Honor is partnered by four different cavaliers, and it flows together beautifully. I wouldn't say it's easy to dance, but it's very enjoyable."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: 8

Soup-er Food: “Soup is my go-to meal. It keeps you hydrated and makes you feel full, but you can still move."

Fresh-Faced: “I take my makeup off immediately after the show, wash my face as soon as I get home, and I don't put any makeup on until I have to, the next night, so my skin has a chance to breathe."

Salt Solutions: “Epsom salt baths help my muscles to recover from that feeling of lactic acid crunchiness."


Tiffany Mosher: Second soloist, National Ballet of Canada

Mosher performs Spanish Chocolate at NBoC. Photo by Cylia von Tiedemann, Courtesy NBoC.

Favorite role: Bee, in “Waltz of the Flowers"

“Although it's an extremely difficult and tiring role with a lot of jumping and quick movements, the fast-paced choreography makes it a joy."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: 24

Get Rest: “We bring a blow-up mattress into the change room, to lie down between shows."

Be a Team Player: “I always volunteer to do a new spot if someone gets sick or injured. Everyone will go to the wings to watch, and if you make eye contact onstage it's fun!"

Balance Is Key: “Doing the same roles all the time works the same muscles. For example, the Snowflake choreography has a lot of quick footwork and relevés, so it's taxing on our calves and ankles. To balance that I do lunges and squats with weights to engage my hamstrings, quads and glutes."


Joshua Grant: Soloist, Pacific Northwest Ballet

Grant as Mother Ginger in PNB's "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Favorite roles: Cavalier and Mother Ginger

“The Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier is the most rewarding role because of the beautiful music, and Mother Ginger is an all-out hoot to perform."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: approximately 35

Natural Skin Care: “Coconut oil is an all-natural way to moisturize your skin. It doesn't have to be refrigerated, so you can keep it in your makeup case."

Advance Check-In: “I always check in with my partner before a pas de deux. Maybe my shoulder hurts that day or her shoes are more dead than usual."

Hit Refresh: “It helps to step out of the theater, even if it's just for lunch or coffee, especially on double show days." P

Ballet Careers
Lenai Alexis Wilkerson. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Michelle Tabnick Public Relations.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Lenai Alexis Wilkerson graduated from University of Southern California with a BFA in dance (dance performance concentration) and a political science minor in 2019.

As Lenai Alexis Wilkerson looked at colleges, she wanted a school that would prepare her for two totally different professions: dancing and law. "I knew, pretty much when I was 16, that I wanted to go to law school," she says. "So I wanted the opportunity to have a dual college experience, where I could have a conservatory training style within a university and I could focus equally on my academics." When she auditioned for the inaugural class of University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, she knew it was the right fit.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

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Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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News
Nicolas Pelletier in Carmina Burana. Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Last week, Colorado Ballet interrupted Nutcracker rehearsals for an exciting announcement: Four dancers were being promoted. Though all made the jump from the company's corps de ballet, Nicolas Pelletier ascended directly to the rank of soloist, while Sean Omandam, Emily Speed and Melissa Zoebisch were promoted to demi-soloist. This news comes hot on the heels of last August's promotion of Francisco Estevez to principal.

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

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