The grand finale: Roberts prepares for final Nutcracker


Roberts dances in the 2021 performance (photo by Maddie Roberts).

Marin Poleshek, Managing Editor

With the holidays right around the corner, many students are busy with a whirlwind of finals, family traditions, parties, and more. 

For senior Maddie Roberts, however, this time of year brings something slightly different. A skilled ballerina, her focus this season is less on Christmas wish lists and more on her most anticipated performance of the year: the Nutcracker.

This year marks Roberts’ 14th and final Nutcracker, a bittersweet milestone, seeing as she has been dancing since she was three years old. This will also be her third consecutive year playing the Sugar Plum Fairy, a leading role in the ballet.

Despite the arduous training required for this role, Roberts claims it is her favorite out of all the parts she has danced. In the weeks leading up to the show, she typically spends seven days each week rehearsing at the studio. On top of her demanding role as Sugar Plum, she also plays roles in the waltz scene, the marzipan scene, and even as the Nutcracker himself. 

Though Roberts claims that she no longer gets nervous for these annual performances, she notes that her biggest challenge is knowing multiple dances. Playing such a wide variety of characters means being able to perform more than eight different routines, each with its own unique choreography to remember. In addition, she also learns the parts of other dancers in case an understudy is needed.

Roberts practices for the performance alongside her partner (photo by Maddie Roberts).

“You have to know everything,” she said. “You have to be willing to hop in and just be able to do their spot.”

A lifetime of dance has taught Roberts that “being present” is the key to managing these different responsibilities. In order to pick up choreography quickly, she ensures that every part of practice is intentional and focused. She also puts in significant time outside of the studio, maintaining a strict routine of stretching, icing and resting to perform at her best each and every day.

“It’s really an acting job,” she jokes, alluding to the ability to cover up the pain to make a performance appear effortless. “You have to look like it’s easy and graceful,” she adds, “…when your feet are killing you, that’s really hard.”

While there are times the intensity exhausts her, a genuine love for her craft is what keeps Roberts going. She notes the friendships she has cultivated as one of her favorite aspects of the experience.

“It’s encouraging to have others going through the same journey,” she says, pointing to her fellow dancers that put in just as much work as she does. Despite not being the same age or attending the same school, their dedication to dance unites them in a way nothing else can.

Roberts poses along the Tampa Riverwalk (photo by Maddie Roberts).

To Roberts, this same uniting factor is part of what makes the Nutcracker story so special. Unlike other ballets, the Nutcracker is familiar to many. 

“It’s a story ballet that people can follow along with,” she says. “It’s just a happy time for everyone.”

And indeed it is. This year is looking to be one of the most-attended performances yet, with more tickets sold at this point in the season than ever before. While Roberts is unsure if they will sell out, there is no doubt that hopes are high. 

“This is a big year for us,” she claims.

Though this year will be Roberts’ last Nutcracker, she has no plans to end her dance career. She plans to study ballet in college and has already begun to audition for programs. This process can be grueling, seeing as many schools only select 10-20 students each year. 

Roberts rehearses diligently in the studio (photo by Maddie Roberts).

Roberts’ most recent audition, for example, included over 500 dancers competing for only 25 spots. “It’s very selective, so we’ll see,” she laughs.

While she has not yet picked a school, she is confident in her pursuit of ballet and ultimately hopes to receive a Bachelor of Arts. 

“I want to continue growing in dance and just see where it takes me,” she says.

Her advice to aspiring dancers? Live in the moment.

“Even on the days when you don’t want to be there, be present,” she says. “Dance is very demanding- it has to bring you joy.”

Roberts will perform in the Nutcracker on Dec. 17 and 18 at the Oak Mountain High School Performing Arts Center. 

Tickets are available at