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Littlest dancers keep eye on prize
Summer Intensive program readies ballerinas for upcoming season
Mary Peterson, 8, waits for direction during rehearsal at the Gainesville School of Ballet Summer Intensive program. She and the other dancers were practicing their routine as Chinese dancers in this fall’s production of “The Nutcracker.” - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Auditions for
‘The Littlest Angels’
When: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Brenau University gymnasium, next to the amphitheater
More info: Open to ballet students ages 7-9; students need not be a student at Gainesville School of Ballet, but must have at least two years of ballet training and be enrolled in a ballet program

No matter their age, ballet dancers need to be good at counting and keeping time.

That’s just as true for the littlest ballerinas, who have to juggle their numbers while learning new dance steps, all while constantly looking up to their older ballerina counterparts.

During the last two weeks, elementary school-aged ballerinas have been busy learning their new dance moves as part of Gainesville Ballet’s Summer Intensive program, where ballet students of all ages warm up to the new season and the latest dance pieces they’ll be performing throughout the new season. But for the small ballerinas, it’s a chance to bring their skills to a new level and get even closer to the coveted junior company — the group of dancers that’s one step away from the oldest, most graceful dancers of all, the senior company.

Louisa Leimbach and Mary Peterson, both 8, said they look up to the older dancers while they work hard to perfect their own moves; the girls are rehearsing for the Chinese Dancers during this winter’s production of "The Nutcracker."

"I started after my sister," said Mary, who will turn 9 on Friday. She grinned when asked whether she looks up to the older dancers. "I want to be a ballerina ... I thought it would be a good idea."

The annual Summer Intensive gives the ballet students a chance to get back into the routine. It also marks the start of the season, with students learning the moves for performances that are still months away.

One of her fellow dancers, 9-year-old Madeline McClurg, said she looks forward to being up on stage with "The Nutcracker."

"I love the dancing part when I’m on stage because you’re basically being graceful," she said. "And it’s so much fun, and that’s what I care about — being on stage."

Not all of the Chinese Dancers have been in "The Nutcracker" before, but most of them have had time on stage. As a result, it’s given them the chance to work out any stage fright that could have gripped them before taking the stage.

"It makes you feel good and special," said Morgan Nichol, 8, who will be in this year’s "Nutcracker" for the first time. "I wasn’t really nervous ... I just ignored all the people and danced and had fun."

Along with the youngest dancers learning their steps, the older dancers will be learning new repertoire pieces from guest teachers Kristy Nilsson and Shelley Grames. Nilsson teaches at Northeast Atlanta Ballet and Grames, a Brenau University graduate, is the director at the Ruth Mitchell Dance Theatre in Marietta.

Nilsson said they came to the Summer Intensive with musical selections and will be choosing dancers this week for parts. This week’s rehearsals will be featured in the spring performance of "Aladdin" by Gainesville Ballet.

Grames, who also went through the Gainesville Ballet program while she was at Brenau, said part of their job as professional dancers is to inspire dancers to keep working harder.

"For us, coming in as a choreographer and teacher, it’s to inspire them and take them to a new place in dance," she said.

And as some of the youngest dancers learn new dances involving paper umbrellas and methodically counting out eight beats, the inspiration continues, every day, surrounded by the older dancers.

Their teacher, Christina Castro-Tauser, the junior company director at the Gainesville School of Ballet, offers words of encouragement as the dancers work their way through the new moves.

It’s still an exhilarating time of year, she said. "This is like Christmas in July."

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