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Local dancers will take stage with professionals in 'The Nutcracker'

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The Nutcracker A Canadian Tradition is a staple of the holiday season.

Once again, 13 young dancers from seven different studios in London, Ont. will get the opportunity to dance on stage with professionals later this month.

“I'm excited because I get to perform in front of a bunch of people,” said Claire Gustavson, 13, from St. Thomas, Ont.

Gustavson can’t wait to take the stage at Centennial Hall. She’s danced there competitively but never in front of upwards of 2,000 people.

Each year, Dance Steps Studio selects young ballet dancers to fill the youth roles in the Ballet Jorgen performance.

“In a lot of ways, I'm actually quite embarrassed to say I have tears,” said Donna Bayley, the owner of Dance Steps. “I guess it’s because we see them the first day that they're rehearsing here at the studio and to see the development and see the joy is just really rewarding.”

Claire Gustavson (left) and her twin sisters Madelyn and Cameryn are all performing in the 'Nutcracker – A Canadian Tradition' by Jorgen Dance in December 2023. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

The dancers auditioned in September, and have been rehearsing every other Sunday in preparation.

“I started ballet like two years ago,” said Thea Webb-Nicholls, 13 of London. “When I heard like they were doing The Nutcracker I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is something I really want to do because it seems like so much fun.’ So I auditioned and then I got it.”

There are a number of roles that include a frog, beaver, chipmunk, squirrel, dragonfly, bear cub and deer.

“I'm a beaver and a chipmunk,” said Gustavson. “There are four chipmunks and I dance with Mother Spruce. For the beaver part, I am rowing a boat at the beginning of our section.”

The quintessentially Canadian Nutcracker is celebrating its 15th anniversary.

Ballet dancers practice for their role in the Jorgen Dance version of 'Nutcracker - A Canadian Tradition' on Dec 3, 2023 in London, Ont. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)For years, the youth program has given many young dancers a look behind the curtain of a professional ballet company.

“I cannot believe how many local dancers have become professional dancers from this show,” said Bayley. “I'm not sure if it's the show, or the fact when they're younger they're getting to work with the professional dancers. It's inspiring and it is just a peek into a life of what a dancer is for these dancers.”

The dancers will rehearse once more at the studio, then get to practice once on the stage at Centennial Hall before the performance on Dec. 23, 2023.

In the spirit of seasonal giving, the community is invited to support the Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex. Pledging a ticket at a discounted price of $25 can give a seat to a child or family who may not otherwise be able to take in the show. 

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