As holiday traditions go, "The Nutcracker" is as familiar as a Christmas tree with blinking lights, a shopping center Santa Claus’ ho ho ho, and Rudolph’s red nose.
But for the past four years, a local Selma dance studio has been adding its own unique spin on a classic ballet.
The Dancing School, which was opened in 1971 by Deanna Driscoll a former dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, will present "A Nutty Nutcracker" at the Selma Arts Center for two shows on Dec 9, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and one show Dec 10 at 2 p.m.
The show is the creation of Elizabeth “Beth” Zobian, Driscoll’s daughter and The Dancing School’s director.
Zobian, who grew up taking lessons at the studio with her mother from the age of 3, said the upcoming performance is an adaptation of the classic ballet "The Nutcracker," with a few surprising twists.
“It’s nutty because we added more than classical ballet,” Zobian said. “We still have all the beautiful classic ballet variations but we also have some tap dance and some fun alternative music that we add in. We take license to add in some fun little things that make the story move and to make it more exciting for people that maybe don’t love just plain ballet.”
"A Nutty Nutcracker" will feature dancers from ages 6 to 70-years-old, including Zobian’s mother, Deanna Driscoll, and stepfather, John Driscoll.
Zobian said that dancers and dance teachers from multiple generations of a single family are common at The Dancing School.
This includes children’s ballet instructor Julie Tsutsui, one of the original students of the school in 1971, who will perform in "A Nutty Nutcracker" alongside her daughters.
“All of our teachers have been students here and have taught here for a really long time,” Zobian said.
Zobian said the family-owned studio has thrived for over 40 years by maintaining close relationships with families and students.
“I’m really proud that we haven’t changed that much,” Zobian said. “Dance has changed a lot. There is so much more on television and they’re asking kids to do more adult things. We just really try to keep kids, kids, let them love dance and not make them grow up too fast.”
The Dancing School offers lessons in ballet, jazz, tap and hip-hop for students as young as 3 while promoting the many physical and emotional benefits of dance.
“When you’re dancing you have to be in the present,” Zobian said. “You have to be in the moment. That’s something that’s very rare these days but it’s a good opportunity for our students to just focus on what they’re doing, how they’re feeling and be expressive artistically and not worry about other things.”
Driscoll, who opened the school when Zobian was only 1 years old, was thrilled when her daughter returned from San Francisco to help with the studio.
“We definitely value empowering our dancers not only physically but emotionally,” Driscoll said. “You’re not in competition with other dancers. You’re just trying to do better than you did yesterday. Also, dance has something for everyone, you don’t have to have exactly a dancer’s body to get a great deal out of dancing.”
Both Driscoll and Zobian said that dance is often treated as a sport in other schools, but not at theirs.
“We don’t compete here at the dancing school,” Zobian said. “We really approach dance as an art form, so we try to give our students other opportunities in lieu of competitions and one of those has been traveling.”
Zobian said The Dancing School has traveled to places like Mexico, China, Italy and Greece to participate in a form of cultural exchange with other dancers around the world. Most recently Zobian invited the school’s performance group, The 2nd Street Dancers, on a trip to Cuba this past summer.
“We got to really see Cuba,” Zobian said. “We had some great interactions with other dancers, we performed and watched some performances. They learned so much and I did too.”
Without the distraction of competitive dance, students are free to focus on practice and performing in shows such as "A Nutty Nutcracker."
“A lot goes into it,” Zobian said. “We have hundreds of costumes and lots of kids.” The lead role of Clara will be played by 13-year-old Rachel Yepremian.
Driscoll and her husband will be performing together as the maid and the butler.
“I’m so excited about it,” Driscoll said. “This is the fourth year that Beth has done our Nutcracker, which is a monumental task. No one can even understand how hard she works on this presentation and every year there’s something new. Her choreography is stunning and all the dancers I believe are having a wonderful time with this wonderful show.”