Beginning in early fall, I put on hold carefree activities such as cheering my school’s football team and shopping for winter clothes with friends. Instead, I and my fellow dancers at Maine State Ballet, start focusing on snow and angels and sugarplums, and begin practicing our parts for “The Nutcracker.”

This year, rehearsals began in late September, almost two months before the first dancer would step on the stage of Merrill Auditorium to perform.

Rehearsals are held in the dance studios of the MSB school in Falmouth until the week before the performances begin. The studio spaces are small compared to Merrill’s stage, and sometimes, it’s difficult to imagine that the dances will ultimately be performed in that vast space.

The initial rehearsals are slow, because it is time-consuming to learn the steps as well as mark the places where dancers need to be on stage.

Dancers are often looking around wondering where they should be during these first rehearsals. But very quickly, places are learned and dancers are able to focus on the steps.

Linda Miele, artistic director, establishes the rehearsal schedule by working backwards from the dates of the performances. She blocks out the two weeks immediately before the shows begin for complete run-throughs of the ballet with the entire cast.

Before then, dancers rehearse in groups according to their parts and under the direction of a ballet teacher.

This year, I will be an Arabian dancer in Act II of the ballet. To learn this part, I attend rehearsals for about two hours every Saturday, in addition to my three weekly ballet classes.

I juggle this commitment with attending school, writing for the LINK (Portland High School’s newsletter), training for the Nordic ski team, participating in an engineering club and volunteering.

Other Maine State Ballet dancers also take part in numerous activities and clubs unrelated to dance.

Elise Bickford, who will dance the role of Clara for the first time this year, handles an extremely demanding schedule. She is a sophomore at Falmouth High School, and attends four weekly ballet classes. To prepare for her part as Clara, Elise rehearses for an hour after each of these classes and for five hours on Saturdays. She also plays the trumpet in a wind ensemble, and participates in poetry and ocean studies clubs at school.

Initially, Elise found rehearsals to be demanding, because she, unlike most of the other dancers, must work with a partner, Michael Holden, who plays the Nutcracker.

Elise believes, however, that the numerous rehearsals have “taught her to be more confident as a dancer,” and that she is now able “to dance like no one is watching her.”

Michael is also dancing a major part in the ballet for the first time. A junior at Falmouth High, Michael was admitted to the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City but chose to remain at MSB this year.

He comes to MSB at 1 p.m. on weekdays to begin dance classes, and rehearses his role from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Michael also returns on Saturday for five hours of rehearsals, working extensively with Miele, honing both his acting and dancing skills.

Miele says that during rehearsals, she works with Michael and Elise more than with the other dancers, “talking about characterization and what they should be feeling and expressing to the audience.”

As rehearsals at MSB are now in their final stages, dancers are excited about rehearsing at Merrill. The atmosphere is exciting, because we are all aware that this is the stage where we will be performing.

And when performances begin, I will look back at the rehearsals and barely remember that two months before, we were a loosely assembled cast trying to figure out where we should stand. 

Laura Frank is a sophomore at Portland High School. She has been studying ballet at Maine State Ballet for 11 years.