A manic kind of energy radiates from the children thronging the dance floor of the Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center—spinning, jumping, running, screeching. Parents, at once anxious and excited, create an almost impenetrable boundary between the dance floor and the rest of the room. They crouch, sit and stand on the fringe, ready at any moment to swoop up a child that is upset and comfort them. Any person attempting to get around or through the press of bodies needs to weave, high-step and dodge. Getting from one side of the dance floor to the other is equally difficult. Adults working their way through the children look like ships plowing through constantly swirling waves.
Members of the Lakeside Pride Symphonic Orchestra—an eleven-year veteran of the Nutcracker Dance-Along—sit on stage at the front of the room aloof from it all. The raised stage protects them and their instruments from frolicking children. Yet, even separated as they are from the crowd, as their first tuning notes are heard, the whole room quiets from a cacophony, in which no one sound or word is discernible, down to a bearable pitch. Through the one-hour-long show, there is never complete quiet, always a buzz of voices, murmurs, high-pitched pleadings or exclamations of children and low-pitched placations of adults.
While the children’s dances probably captivate their parents, the dances by the professional ballerinas of Ballet Chicago capture the attention of all. Garbed in a long transparent royal blue skirt and a gold belly-baring top and headdress, Robyn Wallace, for the first professional number, takes the floor and waits for the music. Holding herself ready, her smile lights up her face. Even her eyes seem to smile with a warmness that can be felt. The moment she starts dancing, the ballet dancer is more suggestive of a belly dancer—it is the Arabian Dance. She dances with a supple and flowing grace, yet each movement she makes is precise. Unlike many ballet dances, she sways her hips and flexes her feet, which sets her dance apart from the rest of the dances.
Event coordinator Angela Latkowski watches everything from the sidelines, leaving the wrangling of children to their parents. Before the event, she had plenty to do, making sure the programs are made, ensuring that they have the proper licensing from the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Freedom Band, which created the event in 1985, and coordinating with Ballet Chicago. But now, her work is mostly finished and she is able to observe and enjoy.
“The day of it comes and this is really easy,” Latkowski says. “I just like seeing everyone dressed up and they’re smiling for the most part, unless they’re crying, but then they are smiling again.”
At the end of the event, after more dance-alongs and professional numbers, the children and the professional dancers take the floor together. The sporadic and excited movements of the children contrast starkly to the soft, fluid movements of the dancer’s arms and hands. Some of the children tug the ballerinas downward to hug them and take pictures with them. Parents join the crowd, dancing and bouncing along. The shape of the crowd morphs. Rivulets, then creeks, then streams of people flow out of the room, down the stairs and out into the crisp December air. (Caylie Sadin)