Local dancers prepare for the holiday classic The Nutcracker

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Columbia Dance will present the holiday classic at the Vancouver School of Arts & Academics Royal Durst Theatre, 3101 Main St. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors 65 and older as well as students with school ID, and $10 for children ages 12 and younger.

Performance times are 7 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday; and 1 p.m. Monday.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.columbiadance.org or at the dance studio, 1700 Broadway, Vancouver. For more information, call Columbia Dance at 737-1922.

Columbia Dance will present the holiday classic at the Vancouver School of Arts & Academics Royal Durst Theatre, 3101 Main St. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors 65 and older as well as students with school ID, and $10 for children ages 12 and younger.

Performance times are 7 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday; and 1 p.m. Monday.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.columbiadance.org or at the dance studio, 1700 Broadway, Vancouver. For more information, call Columbia Dance at 737-1922.

When Hannah Gutkind filled out her “wish list,” of roles for Columbia Dance’s production of “The Nutcracker,” “Spanish” was at the top.

“I have really been wanting to do that,” said Gutkind, a Washougal High School junior. “I want to portray as many roles as possible before I graduate from high school.”

It will be her eighth “Nutcracker” performance with Columbia Dance. In addition to “Spanish,” she will play the roles of Merilton Pas, Demi-Solist Snow, Demi-Rose.

“My favorite part is when we go to the theater for tech week,” she said. “It puts all of our hard work together and everyone is so excited.”

As a member of Columbia Dance’s senior company, Gutkind dances 20 hours per week, six days a week on average, in addition to travel, performances and special events. During “Nutcracker” season, they rehearse seven days a week.

“It is challenging but so rewarding, and has taught me so many life lessons,” Gutkind said. “It’s helped me learn time management, become more responsible and become really close to the girls I dance with. They have become my best friends.”

Gutkind, 16, has been dancing since she was 2. As the years have passed, her dedication to dance has meant giving up soccer and other sports, missing out on youth group and many other typical high school experiences.

“I have always had perfectionist tendencies, and when I come to class, there is always something I can work on and improve on,” she said. “I am trying to become the best I can be. Everyone here is really supportive as well.”

Although dance is her passion, things can get tough sometimes. Through it all, her parents have been an anchor of support.

“They have given me more support than I could ever ask for,” Gutkind said. “Sometimes, after a long day of dance I come home exhausted and upset from what has happened, but they truly know how to say all the right things and remind me of why I love it.”

For many years, her parents made the 60 minute round trip drive nearly every day. Now, Gutkind has a car and can transport herself.

“But my parents still come to all of my shows, make sure I have tuition money and my dance shoes are paid for,” she said. “They are still very much a part of this.”

Although Gutkind anticipates dance will always be a part of her life, she is not sure about pursuing it professionally.

“I don’t know if it is realistic,” she said. “But I definitely want to dance after high school.”

This past summer, Gutkind participated in the dance studio’s summer intensive and also took private lessons from some of her instructors.

“I am really trying to focus on the quality of dancing, and perform more during class,” she said. “I believe I have become stronger and my technique has improved.”

Jan Hurst, artistic director at Columbia Dance, has been one of Gutkind’s dance teachers since she was 8.

“She teaches the main classes and all “The Nutcracker” rehearsals,” Gutkind said. “I really appreciate her. She has experienced so many cool things in her life and I am glad she shares it with us so we can be more well rounded people and dancers. I learn something new every day from her, whether it is dance related or not.”

Hurst has been at the helm of “The Nutcracker,” since 1997.

“I really enjoy working with the dancers and creating choreography with them,” she said. “It is rewarding helping them to prepare for performances, physically and emotionally. I enjoy watching the dancers grow from year to year during “The Nutcracker.'”

She notes that Gutkind is a dedicated dancer with a “sweet nature and excellent time management skills.”

“She is a genuinely sweet young woman who cares about her fellow dancers and always has a pleasant and cheerful demeanor,” Hurst said. “She is very consistent and rarely misses class. She is also excellent about absorbing new techniques and bringing those into her dancing.”

Gutkind has been fortunate to escape many of the typical injuries of the hamstrings and Achilles which can plague dancers.

“We really focus on the whole healthy body here,” Hurst said. “It includes nutrition, sleep and maintenance exercises. New Heights physical therapists, next door to our studio, also donate their time to evaluate the dancers and recommend exercises. Injury prevention is a life skill.”

Gutkind isn’t the only Nutcracker performer from Washougal. She will be joined by 10-year-old Cassidy Morris and Kamiah Koch, 17, a part-time resident.

Morris has been dancing for three years and it is her first “Nutcracker.”

“I am really looking forward to dancing during Mother Ginger and being on stage,” she said.

Koch has studied classical ballet for five years at Columbia Dance and is a member of the studio’s senior company. It will be her fourth “Nutcracker.” She attends Columbia River High School in Vancouver.