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Reisterstown girl chosen to dance lead in 'Nutcracker'

Twelve-year-old youngest to land role of Clara for Baltimore Ballet

By Pat van den Beemt, pvdb@comcast.net

6:45 AM EST, November 8, 2012

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Like a lot of active youngsters, activities for Katy Schwarzweller, of Reisterstown, ranged from ballet to soccer, softball, lacrosse, Girl Scouts, parties, friends and overnights.

But when one activity seemed to dance its way to the top of the list, she made the choice to drop all activities except one — ballet.

That choice has now rewarded Katy with the opportunity to dance the lead role of Clara when the Baltimore Ballet Company performs "The Nutcracker" at Goucher College next month. She is the youngest dancer from the Baltimore Ballet Company to be given the role.

"I just couldn't believe it," said Katy, 12, before a recent dress rehearsal held at the ballet school in Cockeysville. "I'm here every day of the week and I'm working hard, but I still never thought I'd get picked for Clara."

She did not audition for the role. Instead, Cem Catbas, who founded the ballet company in 2000, chose dancers for each role in the Christmas classic that features a toy nutcracker that comes to life. Clara is the young girl who is given the nutcracker for Christmas.

"Katy is a very hard worker and a dedicated student," Catbas said. "She is a beautiful girl and she has wonderful extensions. She is the perfect Clara."

She has been in six prior Baltimore Ballet Nutcracker productions in other roles such as a snowflake, mouse, party guest, maid and flower.

Katy, who is a seventh-grader at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School, can't remember a time when she wasn't dancing. She was just 3 when she began tap and ballet.

"We had a recital and we were so little that we stood on the edge of the stage so our parents could help us change shoes from tap to ballet," she said.

She soon dropped tap and joined the Baltimore Ballet Company when she was 5. She began dancing en pointe — in toe shoes — when she was 8.

"I got blisters in the beginning," she said. "I don't have very muscular feet, but now my toes have calluses. They only really hurt when I'm trying to break in new shoes. That usually takes a week."

She goes through a pair of shoes every few months.

Her only injury occurred last year when she sprained her knee while rehearsing "Swan Lake."

"I was miserable. I was on crutches and couldn't dance for two weeks," Katy said. "It killed me not to dance."

Last summer, she went to the Nutmeg Conservatory in Connecticut for two weeks of intense training and then three weeks at the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.

"Katy really stepped up her level of commitment last year," said her mother, Sue Schwarzweller, who works at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville. "She is one of those kids who is always moving. She'll be standing in the kitchen with her leg up in the air or pirouetting around. Still, when she was named Clara, it caught us all off guard. We weren't expecting it."

Katy's daily routine is to get picked up at school by her mother and taken to the ballet school. Her father, Tom, used to help out when he was executive chef at the Hunt Valley Wegmans, but he now works at the Wegmans in Columbia.

Katy fits in time for homework either in the car, before practice starts, or once she gets home.

Jasmin Craven, 12, who lives in Owings Mills and carpools with Katy to ballet practice, is her understudy for "The Nutcracker."

"Katy is very theatrical and flexible, so she'll make a great Clara," said Jasmin, who plays several roles in the ballet, including the girl doll, a snowflake and in the marzipan piece.

Katy said her experience at the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition in March in Connecticut cured her of being nervous when she takes the stage as Clara.

"It was my first time in that competition and it was the most nerve-wracking thing I ever did," she said. "I know I'll never, ever, be that nervous again. For 'The Nutcracker,' I just want to get on stage and let it happen. I want to flow across the stage."

"The Nutcracker" will be performed at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 and at 4 p.m. on Dec. 9. This is the 13th year for the Baltimore Ballet to present "The Nutcracker," and both shows have always sold out.

Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for children under 12.

To order tickets, go to http://www.baltimoreballet.com or call 410-667-7974.