Making hard work look easy: Preparing for ‘The Nutcracker’

When dancers take the stage this weekend for the performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, audiences will not only see a famous ballet, but also months of hard work put to action.

Dancers with the Makaroff Youth Ballet have been practicing since early September for the holiday performance.


“This is such a huge time commitment for the dancers,” says Renee Ulman, president of the Board of Directors for Makaroff. “It throws people off because when they see the dancers on stage, they make it look so effortless so you don’t understand how athletic it is to do this.”

The dancers for the performance are broken up into three categories: school dancers, company dancers and professional featured dancers. Some performers are as young as 5 years old and progress to high school-aged. Regardless of the skill level, all of the dancers need to practice and attend classes multiple times every week.

“Ballet helps in all aspects of life and it gives you a killer work ethic,” says Jeanette Makaroff, Youth Ballet director. “You get a mind set that if I’m going to bother to do something I’m going to do it well or not waste my time, and that carries far. Most of the students have straight A’s because they can turn off the drama and be all in.”

Being all in is one of the most important skills dancers need to master.

“I tell my students that if you can put your heads in, you can do anything. Hard work pays off and they know they can do it,” Makaroff says.

Makaroff dancers not only commit themselves to learn how to dance ballet, but also the techniques, terms and theory behind every movement.

“Ballet is an art form with its own language and it’s own rhythm to learn,” Makaroff says.

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This dedication is clear to Ulman who has a daughter in the upcoming performance.

“She’s playing the music all the time. The amount of time they spend listening to the music over and over is amazing,” Ulman says. “It shows how much they love the songs and as a parent that’s such a rewarding thing to see. I can’t believe she’s not sick of those songs.”

Aside from the knowledge and skills, the dancers also have to remain in peak physical shape in order to perform the demanding movements in “The Nutcracker.”

“What we’re doing is sculpting the muscles to take on specific shapes,” Makaroff says. “Stamina and endurance are also important. I tell my students to go swimming or get on the treadmill to strengthen their legs.”

Principle dancer in “The Nutcracker,” Kyle Davis studied under Makaroff before he went on to dance professionally. Today, he is a dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.

“The best thing to do is stick with dancing because there are going to be days and weeks where things aren’t working out or it seems too difficult,” Davis says. “If you stick with it, it’s extremely, extremely rewarding.”

Davis says his training with Makaroff helped him tremendously in his seven-year career as a professional dancer.

“She knows the material, vocabulary and everything about the art form and how to pass it down,” says Davis. “She cares about it to so she’s an excellent teacher.”

Makaroff has taught in the Fox Cities for 15 years and this will be the third time the ballet school will perform “The Nutcracker” at the Fox Cities P.A.C.


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“It’s been a lot of fun to collaborate with the symphony and this is a really exciting community event,” Makaroff says.

— By Haley Walters

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