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The three lead dancers in the upcoming fairy tale production “The Nutcracker” may all still be in high school, but their talent as experienced dancers would make the audience think otherwise.
Performances of “The Nutcracker” by the Conservatory of Dance & Theatre will be held Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Galax High School.
To Taylor Edwards, Tino Sauter and Beth Galyean, “The Nutcracker” is more than just a dance recital. It is part of their way of life.
As Edwards — dressed in a fluffy purple tutu — rehearses for her role as Clara, the passion for dance is clearly defined in her face as she studies herself in the mirror, gracefully extending her body, alongside dance partner Sauter, who plays the role of the Prince.
Edwards, of Alleghany High School, is only 16 years old, but has been dancing full force and perfecting her ballet technique, memory and stage presence since she was just five years old — all of which has prepared her for “The Nutcracker’s” main role in the conservatory’s extravagant production.
Edwards, who plans to make a career out of dance, has already been the star of several ballet productions and has even studied under the Atlanta Ballet, one of the leading ballet companies in the nation.
Wanting to learn all aspects of ballet, she transferred from a Sparta, N.C., studio to the Galax conservatory to study under ballet professional Dr. Barbara Johnson. And for the second year in a row, she’s grabbed the lead role.
“I feel blessed to get this part,” said Edwards. “Being someone I’m not is fun. Being Clara is a huge step.”
Edwards practices getting into her role by watching other versions of “The Nutcracker” and carefully studying the excitement on Clara’s face.
“Our version of the story and the costumes are enhanced a little each year,” said Edwards. “This role of Clara has meant a whole lot to me.”
Last year, Edwards, who was only 15 at the time, didn’t feel deserving of the role, since she had to fill the ballet slippers of an older, more experienced dancer.
“I quickly learned that, even though she was older and had more experience, it doesn’t mean that I’m not as good as her.”
Like last year, she has spent long hours in the studio preparing for the recital. While most teens have a social life or participate in sports, Edwards is dancing nearly 12 hours a week, going from school to cheerleading practice and straight to dance rehearsal.
“Being a ballerina is pretty intense,” she admits. “You really have to watch what you eat, you can’t play sports, you miss out of a social life and the studio becomes your second home.”
It’s the social life, hamburgers and her favorite TV program, “That 70s Show,” that she misses the most.
Even though the art form sounds grueling, it’s all been worth the sacrifice, she said. “You get to meet people, be in pretty costumes, gain confidence and dance just gets my mind off things. When I’m worried about things, I come here and forget whatever it is. It’s just fun.”
Edwards plans to attend Emory & Henry College and study theatre and dance.
“Knowing that I can travel all of the country and the world has inspired me to keep going,” she said.
Sauter, 14, is a Galax High School student who has only studied dance for a little more than a year, but is already ahead of most that start at a much younger age.
Unlike Edwards, Sauter wasn’t even interested in dance at the beginning. In fact, he only joined the jazz class because his dad signed him up for it.
But performing a small role in the “Nutcracker” last year changed his whole outlook.
“I thought dance was pointless,” said Sauter. “But since I’ve become more open-minded, I’ve realized that just because you’re a guy doesn’t mean that you have to play football or soccer.”
When Sauter began dancing, he was a “total train wreck,” he said.
It was excruciating to watch.
Now enrolled in ballet at the conservatory, Sauter follows almost the same routine as Edwards. He’s at the studio almost every day until it closes, and sometimes even on Sundays.
“The more I started dancing, the more I fell in love with it,” he said. “It’s a way to express yourself, and some can’t do the things we do here. I think I was born to do ballet.”
Dancing may take up most of Sauter’s day, but he still finds time for homework in between school and studio time, and he's on the A-B honor roll at GHS.
Sauter used to have tons of friends hanging out at his house on weekends, but now, he has to give his friends a go-home curfew just so he can be at the studio and ready for rehearsal.
“I know that if I want to be good at my part, I have to be in the studio,” he said.
“You have to get really serious about your role so you can pull it off.”
Just as demanding as football, Sauter prepares for his role as the Prince by weight lifting, practicing jumps and turns.
Sauter once thought that he would become an anesthesiologist. But now, he has his mind made up to become a professional dancer, and he owes it to his dad for pushing him into it, he said.
“Everyone is really accepting here, and Barbara and [dance teacher] Lori Edwards have done a great job,” he said.
Sauter plans to major in dance and open up his own studio.
Galyean, 16, is also a Galax High School student. A dancer since age five, Galyean said she was bummed when she lost the role of Clara after injuring her foot in a ballet incident.
She has traded in the lead role of Clara for the smaller role of Spanish Chocolate.
“It hurts, and it’s not fun watching everyone take the roles you once had,” she said. “It’s a let-down when you go back to where you started. But it just makes me more determined.”
Galyean has to practice longer and harder to strengthen her muscles to be prepared for the next big recital.
Despite facing the disappointment of losing her role and putting in all the extra time and hard work, Galyean wouldn’t trade dance for anything in the world.
“Over the years, it has given me confidence, and I don’t want all of the hard work that I’ve put into it to go to waste.”
Galyean plans to study at the Pennsylvania University of the Arts, under the dance program.
• “The Nutcracker,” performed by the Conservatory of Dance & Theatre
Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. and Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. at Galax High School
Tickets can be purchased at the conservatory on West Grayson Street in downtown Galax.