ASHLAND – When Jen Smith was a young girl, she danced in the famous holiday ballet, The Nutcracker, several times. Now her daughter, Olivia, is stepping into her mother’s ballet slippers and participating in the ballet.
The eight-year-old danced the part of an angel in the Lincoln Midwest Ballet Company’s annual production of the Nutcracker. There were three performances Dec. 7 and 8 at the Lied Center for the Performing Arts in Lincoln.
This was the 34th annual production of the popular holiday ballet by the Lincoln Midwest Ballet Company, which uses nearly 200 young dancers from across southeastern Nebraska in the production.
From 1990 to 1995, Jen danced in the same ballet in various parts, beginning at the age of 10. She danced as a mouse, a party guest, a maid, a member of the snow corps, a flower and a part of a Chinese dragon in her five years with the production.
Dancing in the Nutcracker was so dear to Jen, she wanted her daughter to enjoy the feeling of dancing in such a beloved ballet.
“I just had so many special memories myself from performing in The Nutcracker that I thought it would be a good experience for her,” said Jen.
Even though it was mom’s idea, Olivia was on board right away.
“I felt really excited and I thought I might want to be in it,” she said.
Olivia was not aware that her mom had been in The Nutcracker.
“I felt really surprised,” she said.
But the young dancer was familiar with The Nutcracker because her mom had taken her and her siblings to see it in the past.
“We’ve seen it for at least three or four years,” Jen said.
Olivia has been in dance since the age of three. Jen is not only a former dancer, but also operated First Position Dance Studio in Ashland for several years before turning it over to current director Jen Sloboth. She also competes as a solo dancer in three or four dance competitions each year.
Olivia studies more than ballet at First Position.
“I like to do jazz,” she said.
Because she has been doing dance competitions for a few years, being on a big stage like the Lied Center is nothing new to Olivia. Still, she got a little nervous before stepping on stage.
“Back stage I’m really scared,” she said. “But when I’m on stage, I don’t care anymore.”
Jen said she was more nervous about the audition in September than she was about the actual performances. That is because the children were taken into a room and the parents had to wait outside, something this dance mom is not used to.
Olivia said her favorite part about dancing in The Nutcracker was meeting new friends.
“I made a lot of friends with the other dancers,” she said.
She also enjoyed the crafts that were supplied to keep the young dancers occupied when they weren’t on stage. They made bracelets as a memento of their participation in the ballet.
Although back stage was fun, dancing was the best part of the experience for Olivia.
“I loved being on stage,” she said.
Olivia rehearsed twice a week for five weeks to get ready for the show. Besides being her “taxi” service to and from rehearsals, Jen also lent a hand by helping with dress rehearsal and doing Olivia’s hair and makeup before the show.
Olivia had so much fun dancing The Nutcracker, she plans to do it again, in part because some of her new friends will also be auditioning next year.
“One of my best friends that I made said she was going to try out again,” Olivia said.
The Smith family proudly sat in the audience to watch Olivia twirl in her hoop skirt with her wings and halo shining under the stage lights.
“Understanding what she was experiencing made me very happy for her,” said Jen.
No one was more interested than little sister Nora.
“The whole time she watched, she said, ‘Mom, when do I get to be in The Nutcracker?’” Jen said.