Stage Fright

Dearest Clara and Nutcracker,

Moments from now the curtain will go up. I know you are nervous. Please, don’t worry about dancing perfectly.

Because by tomorrow the audience will have forgotten you.

All of the hundreds and hundreds of people in the crowd tonight will not remember a perfect performance. Beautiful feet, elegant fingers, timely entrances and well-executed turns will all fade from their minds. These elements are important, absolutely. But they don’t stick. It’s not what people remember.

What they remember is a performance that is real.

Memory comes from emotion. When we feel connected to someone, they linger in our minds. So don’t dance tonight just to be technically precise, but to give character to your character.

The audience enjoys watching Clara during the boisterous, fancy Christmas Eve party. They cheer for the Nutcracker during the bold, chaotic fight scene. But it is the snow scene when they come with you into the story. If you invite them.

The invitation isn’t in the excellence of your mechanics. It comes in the falling snow, in the quiet of the beats between the notes. It comes when you open yourself—and share the longing, the uncertainty, the wistfulness—the emotions of the moment. When you reveal what you feel, the audience feels it with you. That is the magic of artistry. That is what they remember.

And life is the same.

It isn’t enough to be seen. Our accomplishments don’t tell our full story. What we need is to be understood. And for that to happen, we have to invite people in. Into our real. Into our dreams. Into our longing, our uncertainty, our wistfulness. It is when we are vulnerable that we are strong.

Tonight I will marvel at your technique and your emotion. Tomorrow the audience will remember your precision because of your passion.

And after that? I will always be here to listen to your dreams.

With all my love,

Mama Stahlbaum


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This is the eighth year I have performed in The Nutcracker. It is my seventh year as Clara’s mother, and the sixth time I have written a letter to the two young women dancing as Clara. This year’s letter is not only for the two Claras, it is also for the two young men who are dancing as the Nutcracker—one of whom is our son Cole.  Here are the links to the letters for the past five years: the balance pointe, home for the holidays, blizzards of truth, life in ¾ time, in a nutshell.


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