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Leaps and bounds

Arlee dancers take stage for ‘Nutcracker’

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MISSOULA — Boys and girls line the floors of the Ballet Arts Academy, their backs against the mirrored wall, sitting with their legs extended. A young woman stands center stage, her pink tiptoes making a soft thud with each jump, hands elegantly placed above her head.

Elaina Baldwin, 6, watches with the other “mice” waiting for their cue to scurry from their corner. But first, the cast of the Nutcracker ballet rehearses the opening party scene. Ten-year-old Madiah Morin runs around the room with other children, ducking under the arms of the adults, as his father Tim Morin glides across the room, partner in hand.

This is the 27th year the Garden City Ballet Company will stage the holiday favorite in Missoula. The ballet runs Dec. 16-17 at the Montana Theater on the campus of the University of Montana. Casting for the production started in mid-September, and the company is in its third month of rehearsal.

The cast is comprised of more than 100 children and adults, including Baldwin, Madiah, Tim and his 11-year-old daughter Eden, all dancers from Arlee.

And in some form or another, all the young Arlee dancers have been encouraged by Tim to pursue their passions for dance.

“I hobbied with dance when I was at the University (of Montana),” Tim said. “I enjoyed the choreography and the production and the story told through dance.”

Tim said a friend on his soccer team approached him to enroll in a ballet class, since the friend was a ballet instructor and recognized Tim’s ability to move. So Tim took a ballet class and then a jazz and modern dance class.

“I’m not naturally very flexible,” he explained, stating his preference for the jazz and modern style of dance instead of ballet. “(But) I enjoyed the physical fitness and movement of dance.”

His abilities have allowed Tim to dance in competition and in front of large crowds. After winning a college dance festival in Lincoln, Neb., the group Morin danced with even had the chance to perform at the prestigious Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. 

So naturally, when Tim became a father, he introduced his children to the world of dance and has watched their interest grow over the years. 

“It’s an area for Eden, with her body type, it’s a place that she can excel,” Tim shared. 

His son Madiah dances jazz and tap in addition to ballet. And though it’s an activity that does not spark the interest of many boys in his hometown of Arlee, the Missoula dance group draws plenty of men and boys.

“There aren’t a lot of boys in dance,” Madiah explained during a rehearsal break before running off to join his group of friends. 

The two Morin children are dedicated to their sport, as are their parents, who make the 50-mile round trip to Missoula once a week for two to three hours for dance classes. As the performance draws near, there are even more rehearsals. After all, it is a big deal to make the production, as the competition is tough. 

“At audition they (decide) what they think you are best at,” Eden said. “A lot of girls don’t make the production.” 

This year Eden is playing a “soldier,” last year she played a “party girl.”

“I like dance because it’s fun to jump and leap,” Eden said. 

First-grader Elaina also likes dancing and leaping across the stage. Her interest began at the tender age of 2. Her favorite part of dance is wearing the elaborate costumes. And like Eden and Madiah, she can credit Tim for helping foster her interest in dance. 

Elaina’s mother, Chris Baldwin, said Tim helped pique her daughter’s interest in being a part of the ‘Nutcracker’ production. Since Elaina was four, Chris took her to see the ‘Nutcracker’ ballet. Chris remembers Elaina telling her, “Mom, I’m going to be in that,” but it wasn’t until Tim and Eden gave Elaina a tour backstage that her desire intensified. After private lessons, Chris said Elaina became confident enough to audition and was overjoyed when she was cast as a “mouse” instead of the usual first-year role of “gingersnap.”

Chris said Elaina also takes hip-hop and ballet classes in Arlee two days a week, taught by the Missoula Downtown Dance Collective. This in-town class is a treat for the mom who is used to 30-minute drives into Missoula. 

“Elaina’s cheering section is going to take up half the crowd,” Chris said, sharing that Elaina has several family members driving down to watch her in her first big show. 

Tim’s view will differ from the other parents: he’ll be watching from the stage. Tim plays an adult in the opening party scene, along with another parent with dancing experience. However, this combination is often rare, and Tim said it is often hard to find men for these types of scenes that require dancers of all ages. 

“With more than 100 kids, you need a number of parental volunteers,” said producing director Mike Verdon. “It’s less common than common to have parents with a dancing background, but it’s not uncommon.”

But what is universal is the amount of time, miles and money it takes to have a child in dance. Eden, Madiah and Elaina’s parents are well aware that dancing at this level takes a lot of dedication, but they see their investments growing in leaps and bounds across the stage.  

“My dad is a good (role) model for me,” Eden said. “I would like to have my (future) children dance. 

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