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Finally, the day arrives. I have waited for what seemed like an eternity to audition for The Nutcracker. My ten-year-old mind is whirling with anticipation as we drive toward the large building of the School of Nashville Ballet, and butterflies that feel more like a flock of birds flutter inside me. When we reach the studio, the halls are filled with a buzzing throng of girls and boys. I step into those halls that are now a maze of chattering children and their parents, a metropolis of unknown faces. My young eyes scarcely blink as I take everything in. My mother helps me register for the audition where we are given an audition number to pin onto my leotard. I don my pink ballet slippers, and I am ready to take on anything that presents itself to me.

At last, the audition is about to begin. I close my eyes and imagine myself performing flawlessly. To say I am merely excited would be untruthful indeed. I line up with the other children in my age group, and a tall, cheerful lady leads us into the airy, white room in which the audition will be held. I find myself beaming uncontrollably even before I begin dancing. Seated at a long table in front of us are four adults, members of the artistic staff. The glamorous ballet mistress stands up, introduces herself, and immediately begins to show us an exciting dance combination. She starts the music, and I am transported to the stage as I envision myself dancing on opening night. We learn several excerpts from dances in the ballet, each more beautiful than the last. The joyful Nutcracker music is light and sparkling. I still feel nervous inside, but it is a different kind of excitement, the kind one might feel on Christmas Eve.

As I am dancing, my mind momentarily wanders to imagine the part I would get, if indeed I were cast in the production. I know that I would enjoy performing whatever role I might be given, because dancing on a stage is all that truly matters. On the stage, there is no time or weight or space; it is a rare, blissful world of magic and mystery. For me, this is the place where I feel the happiest because it is closest to how I feel within.

Our group executes one last sweeping dance across the expansive floor, and I am in heaven. I waltz out the door and exclaim to my mother that I found the whole experience enchanting. Now I must be patient enough to endure the grueling wait for my letter from Nashville Ballet. This one letter will reveal if I have been cast in the ballet and what part I have received.

One week drags by. Each day I eagerly throw open the door of the mailbox, and each day I am disappointed by the lack of a letter from Nashville Ballet. I attempt to be patient and concentrate on other things but to no avail. It occupies my mind day and night, like a melody playing over and over again.

Then finally one day, exactly two weeks after the day of the audition, I open the mailbox. The letter is here. It lies there like a tantalizing present in its clean white envelope, almost too precious to open. I draw it out slowly, and then all willpower vanishes. Within seconds, the envelope is torn apart, and the letter is in my hands. I read with ecstasy that I have been cast in The Nutcracker! The part does not matter to me; all that matters is that I will be able to perform in the most beautiful ballet I have ever seen. So many times I have watched other children dance on the glorious TPAC stage, and now I can hardly believe that I am going to be a part of it too. I jump up and down and twirl around the house, unable to contain my joy.

The weeks that follow are long and blissful, filled with rehearsals and many exciting new experiences. As I sit behind the massive glass window looking into Studio A and watch the adult company dancers rehearse for their challenging roles, I am inspired beyond measure. Already, I feel the spirit of the stage begin to enter my heart as I practice diligently. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of the ballet production, and I put all that I have into dancing and playing my part.

After weeks of tiring but wonderfully exciting studio rehearsals, dress rehearsals will now take place at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. In this resplendent theater, I keep my eyes open wide, never wanting to miss a moment of this time in my life. A thrill goes through me; this is to be the first time that I will dance to the music of a live symphony. My life feels like a fairy tale as I prepare for the first show.

On opening night, the air outside feels like Christmas. The skies are dark, promising snow, and the freezing wind swirls icily around me. Nothing could feel more magical as we drive into Nashville. Along the way, I gaze out the window at the Christmas decorations and feel incredibly warm inside. Backstage at the theater, I carefully put on my costume and wait with shivery anticipation for the overture to begin. With the first notes of the Nutcracker Suite, the magic takes place. I am no longer myself; I am a performer telling a story.

As I step onto the stage amidst the dazzling colors and sparkling lights, I revel in the breathtaking sounds of the orchestra. I smile for all I am worth, feeling incredibly fortunate for these moments onstage. I know that this experience will be a part of me forever and will always remind me of the magic of being young.

by Ara Vito | photography by Tim Hiber

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