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RACINE -- It doesn't take a long drive to enjoy the magic of "The Nutcracker."

Racine's Studio of Classical Dance Arts, run by former members of the Milwaukee Ballet Marc Darling and Linda Bennett, is putting on a shortened version of the holiday classic for the fourth time. About half the school's students are involved in the production, which is not meant as a private recital for families of students.

"This is also, literally, a public performance," Bennett said. "We want it to become a tradition for families."

The shortened version is very kid- and family-friendly, she said. Every role - even the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier - are danced by students. About half the students at the studio - 55 in all - take part.

Heather Christiansen, 18, of Kenosha, and Vincent Minasian, 17, of Racine, are dancing those two roles. Both started dancing at age 15. Christiansen intends to become a professional ballet dancer, she said.

Christiansen spends about 30 hours at the studio each week, and Minasian is there at least 10 hours, he said. The two had to learn new techniques to dance the classic pas de deux their roles call for.

"All the partnering we had to learn," Minasian said. "We'd never done that before."

In the pas de deux, the two dance together. Minasian supports Christiansen in jumps, turns and balances. They move across the stage with grace and dignity, never showing just how much work it takes to complete the steps.

Both said one of their favorite things about being in the show is the chance to play a role as well as dance.

"To be a different character than you are and bring that to the audience, it's very fulfilling," Christiansen said.

This year, each is dancing two roles. Christiansen dances the role of the mother as well as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Minasian dances the Mouse King in addition to his role as the Cavalier. "With the Mouse King I'm more aggressive with my stance," he said. "I get to act intimidating. It's a lot of fun. With the Cavalier I have to be really sweet."

In participating in the show, the two are carrying on a tradition their teachers know well. Bennett and Darling have a long connection to the production, having performed it hundreds of times during their careers as professional ballet dancers.

" ‘Nutcracker' is in our being, it's in our blood as dancers," Bennett said.

It has become such a part of the overall holiday tradition, she said, that when they opened their own studio, it was something they wanted to share with the community. Their first production of "The Nutcracker" was in their second year of operation.

"‘Nutcracker' is one of those traditional things that happen," Bennett said. "It's Thanksgiving, Christmas and

‘Nutcracker.' "

Darling said it's all part of the "romance of the ballet."

"It's like the first winter snowfall," Darling said. "It's beautiful and

romantic."

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