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Local Ballerina Maggie Small Talks About Her Role As A Mentor

Maggie Small and dance partner Fernando Sabino rehearsing for the Nutcracker. Photo by Kate Prunkl

Article and photos by WCVE intern Kate Prunkl. On December 9, 2017 watch @wcve’s Instagram story for an inside look at the Richmond Ballet as ballerina Maggie Small prepares for her role in the Nutcracker. Notice anything different with WCVE's Instagram account? We've changed the look to capture "the people in ourcommunity who educate, entertain and inspire." Follow Us

As dancers of the Richmond Ballet bend and stretch in preparation for class, the excitement in the air is palpable. It’s Nutcracker season and as an intern at WCVE, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend the day with one of Richmond Ballet’s Sugar Plum Fairies, Maggie Small, as she prepares for opening night at The Carpenter Theatre. Small is a Richmond native, former student of The School of Richmond Ballet and alumna of the Minds in Motion initiative - an outreach program designed to “allow the children of inner city schools to experience what it’s like to be an artist.”

The following interview was edited for clarity and brevity. The Nutcracker opens December 9 at the Carpenter Theater and runs until December 23, 2017. More information.

Kate Prunkl: As an alumna of the Minds in Motion program, what does it mean for you to see young children begin to love dance?

Maggie Small: Oh, it’s so exciting! Especially this time of year when we’re doing the Nutcracker. The first rehearsal we have with the kids is always so refreshing. I’ve been in the Nutcracker since I was 10--which is a long time--I don’t know Christmas without the Nutcracker. Now it’s just part of my everyday life. It’s not that it’s not special, it’s my normal. When you see the little kids come in for the first time and they’re just in awe of the size of the studio or watching the ballerinas, it’s so exciting to return to that place inside yourself when you see it happening with little kids. I love it...It’s so cute! They’re just so excited and they can’t contain themselves. It’s fun to share that with them.

KP: Do you see yourself as a mentor to the kids?

MS: I do. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being a ballerina. Kids these days need heroes. As professional dancers, everybody in the company takes it very seriously that we represent the Ballet and also a way of life that is important to share with children. It’s our level of discipline, our level of care for what we do; we’re setting examples with what we do. It’s exciting to be an inspiration. I think because the kids see that I came through the school, that I came through the Minds in Motion program, there’s an extra element of hope that they can achieve that too. It’s exciting, but it is a lot of responsibility. I try to be sincere and genuine with them whenever I can, because I can tell they’re excited to see me and be a part of what I do up here. They usually only see it from the other side of the curtain. I think that’s part of how we maintain the culture of the Ballet. It’s not just one program, the company, the school or Minds in Motion; everything tries to have a through line to one another.

KP: Many children see themselves as ballerinas, was this your dream?

MS: It just never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be a ballerina. Honestly, that’s it.

KP: What drives you to continue to push yourself and grow as a dancer?

MS: When you grow stagnant and you don’t push, you don’t improve. That’s not fun and you’re also not exciting for the audience or for your peers to interact with. The nature of ballet is that you have to push or you won’t get better. Like when you’re little, you learn how to do plies; I’m still learning how to do plies. There’s no ceiling. No one wins at ballet. So, it’s exciting to push yourself and because you do plies every day, you have to come up with new ways to make it fun or special or challenging. If you get to the professional level as a ballet dancer, it’s because somewhere in your training you realized the importance of pushing yourself, otherwise, you probably wouldn’t have made it. It’s integrated into how you practice everyday.

KP: What advice would you give to the dancer who is preparing to perform as Clara tonight?

MS: When I did Clara, it was particularly exciting because it was the first time I was on stage for almost an entire ballet and it’s just exhilarating to realize that you can live in this whole other world. I think when you’re that age, you kind of don’t know why it’s so exciting and so the little girls who are Clara, you can tell they get nervous sometimes. I always make sure to spend time with the Claras. I think what’s important is to just savor the time you have on stage. I think it’s important to savor it because you spend so much time in the studio practicing; the performances are what should be exciting. You don’t have to think as much because you’ve done the work. You take it to the stage and share your gift and hopefully take the audience to this other place. That’s heavy, and a lot to explain to a child, but I think for Claras, the best advice is just to have fun and savor the moment.