Sophomore dancer featured in Ozark Ballet Theater’s production of ‘Nutcracker’

Sophomore Kayla Manning started ballet when she was three. Her mother held her little hand and took her inside the Academy of Dance in Springdale, and she fell in love. Through the years she’s tried her hand at lyrical and contemporary, but she’s found her passion for wearing pointe shoes and doing pirouettes.

“I love to dance,” Manning said. “It’s always clicked for me; it’s just been my thing.”

Since June, Manning has participated in around three or four rehearsals, two to three hours each, a week for the Ozark Ballet Theatre’s production of the Nutcracker. To warm up, the dancers start at a barre. 

After doing a series of exercises to perfect their technique, they move to the center of the room for center work. Center work consists of turns and leaps and is similar to barre exercises with the added challenge of no support from the barre. 

After working on the barre and in the center, the dancers start working on their particular roles. Manning has several different roles in the Nutcracker. 

In the first act, she plays a party girl while in the second act, she is a shepherdess roaming around “The Land of Sweets” with young kids playing sheep. Then, Manning dances in a snowflake costume for the rest of the ballet. 

To get cast in these roles, Manning had to audition either in a standard ballet class setting, only with judges watching and critiquing her work, or by performing a part of the Nutcracker dance. 

The long hours of practice that go into perfecting a role can be physically grueling, but after years of dancing, Manning barely notices the difficulty level.

“You obviously get muscles from ballet,” Manning said. “It can be a lot on the body, but I feel like if you do it for a long time, you get used to it.”

After six months of rehearsing their characters, Manning and the entire cast will be on stage in December. They have booked out several different venues in Arkansas and are set to perform at John Brown University, Arkansas Arts Academy, and the School of Innovation. 

Outside of the Nutcracker, Manning does yearly recitals with her studio. Last year, she had a solo to an Anastasia song. Yet, despite the opportunities she has been given and her passion for the sport, her experience has been far from perfect.

“Sometimes the most difficult part is the social stuff because the studio environment can be really toxic,” Manning said, “but a lot of the time, getting everything perfect and making it flawless can be the hardest thing.”

According to Manning, the hardships and time that have allowed her to grow as a dancer have increased her respect for other art forms, like theater and band. 

“I feel like people should appreciate the arts more than they do and not take them for granted,” Manning said. “Ballet has made me appreciate them more because I understand the work that goes into it.”