The Nutcracker Ballet has been a part of Priscilla Hulsebos' Christmas tradition for nearly her entire life, which is about as long as she's been dancing.

Her mother was a dance instructor for the Atlantic Civic Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet.

"Ever since I can remember I was interrupting her classes," Hulsebos said.

So her mother put her to work, giving her various rolls in the Nutcracker.

"It's something I've always done," she said. "I think I started out as an angel and worked my way up."

She said she even danced as a bat, "In a very strange Nutcracker."

"I think I've been just about everything," Hulsebos said. A fact that helps during rehearsals; if someone's missing the teacher just steps in and dances the part.

When she began working at Marilyn's Dance Studio, Kutztown, in 1988, her goal was to build up the ballet program.

Once the teacher had 50 students, she decided to take on the Nutcracker once again.

"We hadn't done anything ambitious up to that point," Hulsebos said. "Nutcracker is a perfect outlet because it's only an hour-and-a-half, and packs a lot of action in a short period of time."

It's also a much-loved tale of Clara Stahlbaum who is given a Christmas gift of a nutcracker from her godfather, Drosselmeyer.

Clara falls asleep with the nutcracker in her arms and dreams of mice kings, battles, and sugar plum fairies.

"There's a lot of parts for young kids," said Hulsebos. "All my older kids want to be a mouse general."

The members of adult tap dance class become soldiers in the story.

Even parents and siblings of the dance students get involved, some whom have never danced before.

All of the costumes and backdrops for the performance were created by Hulsebos, students and their parents.

For the Gieringer family of Fleetwood, the production is one in which they all can get involved.

Sixteen-year-old Kathryn has been dancing since she was three, and plans to make dancing her profession. She's won a coveted part of a mouse general, dances in the snowflake scene, and solos in the Arabian dance.

Her mother, Marla, also a student at Marilyn's, is one of the soldiers. Marla is joined by her husband, Brian and 20-year-old son, Joshua, recently discharged from the army in the party scene.

"His sister twisted his arm," said Marla of Joshua's involvement.

The Geiringers enjoy making the Nutcracker a family tradition.

So does Hannah Wolfinger of Hamburg. She's the rehearsal assistant for the production and dances the part of the mouse queen.

The 18-year-old has danced since she was three, and is a teacher at Culture Shock in Hamburg. A 2006 graduate of Hamburg Area High School, she's currently a student at Kutztown University majoring in elementary and early childhood education.

She's danced in the dance studio's production for three years, and enjoys the venue of the Schaeffer Auditorium on the Kutztown University Campus.

"It's intimate," she said. "The acoustics in the building are amazing."

This year's production features a live orchestra conducted by Dr. Willis Rapp, Kutztown University.

"I'm a little nervous," admitted Hulsebos. "These kids have never worked with a full orchestra."

But she's excited about what the live music will bring to the performance.

"I just can't believe he (Rapp) volunteered to do this," Hulsebos said.

The dancers began practicing in earnest in August, learning the numbers in week-long daily sessions. They've spent every weekend since polishing their act.

But for the dancers, the chance to perform is worth all the hard work.

"It's a lot of fun," said Wolfinger.

Seven-year-old Nicole Gagliardi echoes that sentiment.

This is Gagliardi's first time dancing in the Nutcracker, and she's been working hard practicing for her role as an angel.

"It's just really, really fun and my heart just pounds," she said.

Contact Penny at plhummel@berksmontnews.com.

Marilyn's Dance Studio presents the Nutcracker with the Kutztown University Orchestra Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. at Schaeffer Auditorium. For more information call 610-683-7725.

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