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Nutcrackers and Great Ladies

Joke: What are the four food groups for professional dancers as taught in ballet school? Diet coke, cigarettes, coffee and painkillers.

Even though I still think the Mouse King is a little creepy, I've always enjoyed Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.

Growing up, my dad would take my sister and me to see the San Francisco Ballet's production and it was a tradition that I looked forward to every year.

Going to see the Nutcracker was a big event in our house. My dad would put on his suit and tie and my sister Eva and I would become "Great Ladies," as my mom called it. We would don our best winter dresses, complete with tights and patent leather shoes. We'd hop in the car and make our way across the Bay Bridge to Van Ness Avenue.

Ah, Van Ness Avenue. I remember peering in the windows with my mouth agape and my eyes aglow. Not only because the storefronts were decorated with lights and glitter for the holidays, but also because the car dealerships would have all the best, top-of-the-line new cars spinning and twinkling in their windows. I remember thinking that real Great Ladies probably drove cars bought on Van Ness's Auto Row and when I grew up, I was going to be that kind of great lady.

Yes, it's good to be young.

If we got to the War Memorial Opera House early enough (and if the line was not too long), my dad would treat us to a Shirley Temple, so I never dallied too long gazing at those beautiful cars. If my dad ever got himself a drink, I sure couldn't tell you what it was, because for me, it was all about the Shirley Temple. Simply put, heaven in a glass!

Eva and I knew to be on our very best behavior during events like this. We never argued, bickered, or fought about things like who got the cherry from the Shirley Temple. We said "please, thank you, excuse me," and that was about it.

In fact, my dad always received compliments on his two towheaded girls. Little gray-haired ladies would smile and say how grown up we were. And let me tell you, Eva and I loved hearing this! Not because we wanted the praise, but because this made it much more likely that a fruit-flavored Mentos would mysteriously land in our hand somewhere through the first or second act.

My dad is not a candy person, so when the Mentos came out, it was a big deal — a sweet and delicious big deal! But eating Mentos had rules. They only appeared at the ballet, opera or symphony and only one at a time, few and far between. They were not to be vulgarly chewed upon, either. No, no, no. Don't be ridiculous. They were to be sucked on, noiselessly, using one's impeccable, Great Lady manors. 

And yes, it was always Mentos. Because Mentos are housed in a noiseless candy wrapper, if one is careful and patient while removing. And our dad has da' skillz.

Every year the Alameda Civic Ballet puts on a hometown performance of The Nutcracker. If I'm going to be totally honest, the first year I went I was ready to be underwhelmed. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but at this point, I feel I am something of a Nutcracker aficionado. But I'm happy to say, I was pleasantly surprised!

I've taken my girls a few times since and I am always impressed by the production. From choreography to costumes, it all is very well done and I highly recommend it. This year, their performances will be on Saturday, Dec. 15 and Sunday, Dec. 16 both at 2 p.m. at the Kofman Theater, 2200 Central Avenue in Alameda. Click here to purchase tickets online.

If you're the type that likes to get up close and personal, you can meet and take pictures with some of the dancers this Friday evening, Nov. 30 at Tucker's Ice Cream from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sample Tucker's new holiday ice cream and try naming the new flavor. Winners will receive free tickets to ACB's Nutcracker. All the information can be found by clicking here.

Lactose intollerent? Well, take your own Great Ladies and Perfect Gentlemen to the Alameda Free Library this Saturday, Dec. 1 at 3 p.m. for a retelling of the Nutcracker by members of the Diablo Ballet Company. It's for grades K-5, seating is limited and admisssion is free. Please click here for all the details.

But remember, no outside food or drink is permitted at the library, so all Mentos and Shirley Temples must be consumed before or after the show. Let me know if you need any help in this area.

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