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Overcoming the Nutcracker Fear Factor

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, December 10, 2012
If you're six-years-old, four feet tall, and about to dance with a giant mouse that's three feet taller than you are, it might be a little intimidating. Sacramento Ballet co-artistic director Ron Cunningham understands.
CUNNINGHAM: "And that can be pretty terrifying for a child, especially since they have great imaginations. You know, if it's a mouse, it's a mouse. It's a big one!" 
So Cunningham developed a four-point plan for getting his Nutcracker kids over the big mouse fear factor. Step one: introduce the idea on family terms.
CUNNINGHAM: "The first rehearsal, I teach the kids what they're going to do. And then I bring in their parents into the room, and I have them be the mice. Not in costume, but just do the simple thing that the mice do with the children. The kids think it's a blast. They think it's so much fun to have their parents have their parents chase them around as a mouse.
And then my second rehearsal, I have my company men do it, with no mouse outfit, and they still think it's really fun.
At their third rehearsal, I have the men do it, in my company. But now they wear their mouse heads. But they still have a human body. So the kids can see that they're not real mice.
And then by the fourth time, the kids are ready, we have the full mouse outfit on, and the children - most of the time --  are fine."
Still, even some of the eight- and nine-year-old girls in this year's production say the giant rodents are a little scary.     
JEFF HUDSON: "Is it a little bit intimidating to come face to face to a seven foot mouse?"
HUDSON: "Why?"
GIRLS: "Because they're very tall… Big gnarly teeth…"
HUDSON:  "What's it like to be picked up by a seven foot mouse?"
GIRLS: "Fun! It's fun. Sweaty! Sweaty inside."

STEWART: "Well, the body is just this huge cloth incubator."

That's dancer Alex Stewart. He wears one of the big furry mouse costumes and says he does work up quite a sweat when he dances.  
STEWART: "I always try to wear my bike shorts, and nothing else if I can get away with it, because it's so hot."   
Stewart grew up in the Capital Region -- he was in Sac Ballet's Nutcracker as a 12-year-old - well beyond the fear of big, furry mice. Instead, he was excited by the prospect of appearing with the professional dancers he admired so much.  Ultimately Alex chose dance for his own career.
STEWART: "It is a dream come true. I looked up to the dancers so much as a kid."
Now a new crop of Nutcracker kids will be looking up at him in his giant mouse suit as he dances with them across the stage. And what do they think? 
GIRLS: "It's very nervous …. Scary … It's really fun, though. Really fun, too."
Who knows, one of these girls might become the Sacramento Ballet's star ballerina in another ten or 12 years.
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