Ten-year-old Yelitza Wier never had been in a ballet or taken dance lessons, but she knows being selected to be the Sugar Plum Fairy is a big deal.
"I really like this costume," Yelitza said. "It has all these little details and fluffies to make you feel like a princess."
Yelitza is among the 25 fifth-graders at South Columbus Elementary, as well as 43 more at Davis Elementary, given this chance to feel important, thanks to music teacher Jymi Rafi's direction and the Columbus Ballet's generosity.
The schools will produce their own version of the classic Christmas ballet "The Nutcracker" this week after the Columbus ballet provided costumes and motivation.
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"I decided since I had great costumes," Rafi said, "I'd have to do 'The Nutcracker' at my schools with my fifth-grade chorus students this year."
This version of the ballet is more like a musical because it comes with a script, including speaking and dancing parts.
"I choreographed the dances to be simpler versions of the actual dances for my fifth-graders, who are new to classical dance," Rafi said.
Davis and South Columbus serve students from predominantly low-income families, so the practices and performances are rare treats for them. Rafi has seen her students build their self-confidence along with their arts appreciation.
"The two schools I work with are in great need of classical cultural influence," Rafi said, "as most of our kids may not otherwise have access to see such performances on their own. We are so grateful for the opportunity."
South Columbus principal Patrice McFadden said, "The impact the arts can make on our students is very beneficial. I see it in the eyes of those students. It can be instrumental in their lives."
Just ask South Columbus fifth-grader Maxwell Holloway, who plays the role of Drosselmeyer. Maxwell, 10, likes his character because he does magic tricks, wears a fake white beard and deepens his voice.
"I get to change my personality," he said with a smile.
Rafi is capitalizing on the interest by extending the teaching into her classes. She is showing the ballet's video, explaining the characters and the plot, and discussing the movements and the composer, Tchaikovsky.
"My students will then be an educated audience and have an appreciation for the classical realm," Rafi said.
Columbus Ballet director Maria Hirsch visited the schools for a session to give the groups pointers.
"The kids were so excited about working with a real ballet teacher," Rafi said.
And they saw "real" dancers when a contingent from the Columbus Ballet performed excerpts from "The Nutcracker" at their school.
"It was awesome," Maxwell said. "The guy who played Drosselmeyer showed me his magic tricks."
Yelitza hopes her debut won't be her last dance. "It might be the start of a wonderful career," she said.