Carrying on Tradition

South Dayton Theatre performs The Nutcracker South Dayton Theatre performs The Nutcracker

SDDT’s 17th annual performance of ‘The Nutcracker’

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

South Dayton Theatre performs The Nutcracker

Tradition is a term that’s used quite a bit during the holidays. For some, a little too much. Others can’t possibly get enough of the custom tinsel, carols and holiday lights.

And then there’s the celebrators who feel tradition, like an elderly woman does her wisdom – in their bones and delivered in just the right amount.

It would be tough for one to imagine such a feeling possible when considering a holiday favorite like the annual performances of The Nutcracker.

But that’s exactly the sentiment earned when listening to South Dayton School of Dance (SDSD) Administrator and partner Julie Anderson speak about the South Dayton Dance Theater’s (SDDT) upcoming performance of their 17th annual The Nutcracker at the Dayton Convention Center, December 4 and 5.

“I love that families who are not related to SDSD or SDDT call me for tickets year after year,” Anderson said. “When they call for tickets, I ask if they are coming to see a certain performer. Many times the response is ‘No, we have been bringing our children to your Nutcracker for years and now we are bringing our grandchildren.’”

“For me personally, The Nutcracker performances begin the holiday season and trigger my holiday spirit … it is truly contagious,” Anderson said.

That infectious energy trickles right on through to the dancers and staff.

Nutcracker was the first full-length ballet I performed as a child, just like it is for my students, so it will always have a special place in my heart,” co-Artistic Director Erin Long-Robbins said. “It’s always heart-warming to see their excitement when they see the cast list and first put on their costumes.”

“I do admit that I get a lot more nervous for my students when they perform than I ever was when I performed myself. I want the audience to see them perform the way I have seen them dance – with joy, artistry and precision,” she said.

“The SDDT dancers are challenged by their school, class and rehearsal schedules, but many are also SDSD demonstrators in the younger students’ classes and already have a ‘fan club,'” Anderson said. “The mentoring that takes place during classes, rehearsals and costume fittings always makes me proud of the SDSD and SDDT artistic faculty, parent volunteers, and the SDDT company members who are idolized by many of the younger cast members.”

But what’s most interesting, perhaps, about that admiration is that it’s reciprocated between the company members and staff to the younger children. Take, for example, Ashley Sass, who is the co-assistant artistic director with Long-Robbins. Sass started out with SDDT as a young child – her first role in The Nutcracker, in fact, was as one of the little mice, a role that is still her favorite part to help rehearse.

After years of working her way up from little mouse to Clara and Sugar Plum, Sass moved on to earn a professional dance career and graduate with a dance degree from Point Park University in Pittsburgh.

But her reverence for SDDT always kept her coming back, popping into rehearsals when she was visiting home, assisting with choreography while juggling a full-time dance career, and now, in her current role at SDDT.

“Now, being on the other side of the production and walking out to the lobby in a dress and not a tutu, I get to see all those smiling faces on the dancers as they hug their friends and family,” Sass said.

That certainly is something to be said coming from Sass, who is known for staying up into the wee hours of the night, putting the finishing touches on costumes.

“Ashley is known as the ‘Bedazzling Queen’,” Anderson laughed. “She is truly amazing and can work miracles with worn out costumes and a handful of trimmings.”

Sass said her dedication, as with every member of SDDT, stems from the timeless saying that a person is the product of his or her environment. For SDDT, that’s the very circumstance created for them by Elizabeth Karns, who established SDDT in 1986.

“This woman is one of the most selfless people I know,” Sass said of the founder they all lovingly call “Miss Liz.”

“She has such big shoes to fill and I know I could never come close,” she said. “I have been on the other side where Miss Liz has stayed up all night so I would feel beautiful in my costume, and I take pride in giving the same gift.”

“I always tell myself late at night that if Miss Liz can do it, I can do it!”

Now, certainly, that’s a “tradition” worth achieving.

The 17th annual performance of The Nutcracker at the Dayton Convention Center is December 4 and 5. For show tickets and more information, call 937-435-5052.

Contact DCP freelance writer Caroline Shannon-Karasik at

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