Columbia Nutcracker on ice is fun for skaters, audience

For more than seven years, Ana Shimeall and Julia Choi, both of Ellicott City, have shared a friendship and the ice as members of the Columbia Figure Skating Club.

So it's not surprising that this year, they also are sharing a few laughs as Clara and the Nutcracker, respectively, two of the main characters in the club's annual production of "The Nutcracker on Ice."

"Ana is one of my closest friends ever," said Choi, 14. "It's kind of hard not to laugh because we're supposed to be in love with each other."

"She's pretty good at covering it up," added Shimeall, 15. "But if you look closely, she's probably laughing."

More than 80 skaters, ranging from 5-year-olds who just started figure skating to teenagers and adults who have competed in regional and national competitions, will perform during the club's shows Dec. 14-15 at the Columbia Ice Rink.

"It's a very family-friendly event," said Andrea Wills, a parent and volunteer who helps with the performance. "And it's local. It gives you the tradition of seeing the Nutcracker without having to go to Baltimore or Washington."

The hour-long show, sanctioned by U.S. Figure Skating, tells the classic tale of Clara, a young girl who receives a Nutcracker doll as a present. In her dreams, the nutcracker magically comes to life.

Laughing aside, Shimeall and Choi have spent the past three months rehearsing the show both on and off the ice.

"This is the first time we'll be skating in a duet together," Choi said.

The duo performs during the club's late shows both days, while Kendall Robey and Kelly Timlen perform as Clara and the Nutcracker, respectively, during the early shows.

The Nutcracker on Ice choreography is just as challenging, if not more so, as competition choreography, Choi said.

Some of the skaters perform jumps like the double Axel and triple loop, moves performed by Olympic-level athletes, said Patricia Muth, artistic director.

"It's not a recital," she said. "These kids know how to skate."

But the professional-level performances did not start out that way.

In 1973, Muth and several other local skating enthusiasts formed the Columbia Figure Skating Club, a nonprofit member club of United States Figure Skating. The club began performing "The Nutcracker on Ice" at the Columbia Association's Columbia Ice Rink 20 years ago.

"We started the Nutcracker as a fundraiser because we owed (Columbia Association) money for the ice time," Muth said.

In its early years, the show had limited jumps, black plastic scenery and green and yellow lighting, Muth said.

Today, in addition to the advanced choreography, shows include ornate costumes, hand-painted scenery, wooden props, professional lighting and a team of parent volunteers who work behind the scenes.

"It's grown in every which way, scenery, background, the level of skaters," Muth said. "And the parents who move the scenery have become much more knowledgeable."

That's because the skaters and parent volunteers all work as a team, said Joanna Brown, parent and show director.

"It's kind of like an extended family," she said. "Everyone rolls up their sleeves, jumps in and helps out."

"We put on a fabulous show," Brown added. "For an amateur production, it's as close as you can get to a professional production."

"The Nutcracker on Ice" show times are Saturday at 5:30 and 7:15 p.m. and Sunday at 4:30 and 6 p.m. Tickets cost $12. Children age two and under are free. For more information, go to

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