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5 Questions with Diane Callahan
Diane Callahan is the owner of the Gainesville School of Ballet and former artistic director for the Gainesville Ballet Co. - photo by Tom Reed

About Diane Callahan

Age: 71

Hometown: I was born in Fresno, Calif., but consider Los Angeles my home.

Time in Northeast Georgia: I have been teaching dance in Gainesville and Northeast Georgia for 43 years, but actually lived here only about 20 years of that time.

Experience: I began dancing professionally immediately after high school. I danced and toured with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, San Francisco Ballet and Atlanta Ballet.

Occupation: I teach ballet and am the owner of Gainesville School of Ballet, which opened in 1969. I am also the artist director of the Gainesville Ballet Co., which is in its 39th season.

Family: My father was the late Thomas Harris Gibson, a vice president at Coca-Cola; My mother, Dorothy Wiggins, is 95 and lives in Atlanta. My daughter, Wendy Healan, danced with the Gainesville Ballet Co. through high school. She now lives in Atlanta. Three members of my family — great-grandfather Carlton Wiggins, grandfather Guy C. Wiggins, and uncle Guy A. Wiggins — were well-known impressionist artists in New York.

To say ballet is Diane Callahan’s life is an understatement. She began dancing professionally after high school, touring with companies across the country. For more than 40 years, she has taught ballet at the Gainesville School of Ballet. And she is the artist director for the Gainesville Ballet Co., which again this year presents “The Nutcracker.” Performances are Friday night, Saturday afternoon and night and Sunday afternoon.

Today, The Times asks Callahan five questions about “The Nutcracker” and her love of ballet.

1. Why does “The Nutcracker” have such lasting appeal?

The Nutcracker has such lasting appeal because it is about the magic of Christmas. In many cities, including Gainesville, it heralds the Christmas season.

There are many variations of the “The Nutcracker” depending on budgets, but all the versions have to do with family and the joy of Christmas.

2. What special twists or additions does the Gainesville Ballet include in its show?

When Allene West Kelley and I decided to choreograph “The Nutcracker” almost 25 years ago, we knew we would have to make some changes to the first act. The original version has a large party scene which includes many young children and their parents who are dancers. We did not have the rehearsal staff, that many children or parents willing to rehearse or the large sets needed to make that scene happen.

We decided to do our own version in which “Clara,” the lead child, goes into an enchanted forest and comes upon many different characters. We added our lead dancers and music that is by (Pyotr) Tchaikovsky, but is not part of “The Nutcracker” score. Many of the Gainesville Ballet Co. soloists have more roles to dance because of this. Our second act follows the same story line as most other versions.

3. Is “The Nutcracker” a good way to introduce young people to ballet?

“The Nutcracker” is a very good way to introduce young people to ballet because of the beautiful music, many fun characters, colorful costumes and magical story.

4. What is your favorite dance or song in “The Nutcracker”?

My favorite dance in “The Nutcracker” is “Waltz of the Flowers.” The reason is because I danced the lead role of the Dewdrop Fairy for many years and I love the music.

5. How did you get involved with ballet?

When I was a little girl, my mother took me to see two or three famous ballet companies and I fell in love with dance. I started dancing at the age of 9, which is really late to begin. But I knew it was all I ever wanted to do.

Other than my family, the ballet school and company have been my passion and my whole life. I love to watch the children develop and improve. Many of my “kids” are still in the dance world in one way or another.

There are also now many second-generation students at the Gainesville School of Ballet. It is a small and wonderful world!

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