Inside the Dance Factory’s “The Nutcracker”

The Dance Factory rehersals for "The Nutcracker." Photo provided
The Dance Factory rehersals for “The Nutcracker.” Photo provided

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Rehearsals are underway for the Dance Factory’s “The Nutcracker,” and their Main Street studios are a flurry of choreography, costumes, and excitement. Ballet students from Springfield, Chester, Weathersfield, Bellows Falls, Ludlow, and beyond forgo two months of Sundays to rehearse the perennial holiday favorite, which delights upwards of 800 attendees each season. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the full-length professionally costumed production.

While other regional dance schools stage their own versions of “The Nutcracker,” the Dance Factory’s approach is unique in that the focus is creating an experience for the dancers as much as for the audience.

“Many people don’t realize that other dance schools audition and hire professional dancers from outside the school for soloist roles,” explains Ashley Hensel-Browning, the show’s director and choreographer. Here the opportunities are reserved for students. The faculty makes a holistic assessment based on their students’ performance in class. As the dancers’ aptitude advances through the years, they are offered increasingly challenging roles.

“Dancing in ‘The Nutcracker’ is magical,” says Sabyn Tennis, a ninth grader at Springfield High School, who has been dancing since kindergarten. “I love that you get to dance different parts every year with people that you may not have danced with before. It feels like family.”

The experience has lured back adult Dance Factory alumni like Shannon Aubin, performing this year as a Snowflake and a Flower. “‘The Nutcracker’ is a heartwarming tradition for me,” says Aubin. “As a young dancer, I had such a positive experience with a diverse range of folks, it made me feel welcome to return and share the joy of dance with a supportive community.”

This sense of community has even encouraged entire families to participate, such as the Yuenglings, who have been on stage and behind the scenes of “The Nutcracker” for over a decade. “It’s a delight to be able to dance with my teenage daughter,” says Erica Yuengling of her daughter Anneka. “The Dance Factory does an amazing job of encouraging dancers of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and ages.”

This spirit of inclusivity and acceptance underscores the Dance Factory’s belief that dance is not a one-size-fits-all pursuit, and their understanding of the financial, physical, social, and logistical considerations that can challenge a dancer’s progress. In encouraging students to work toward their personal best, the Dance Factory has cultivated a community where dancers forge friendships and support one another.

Nowhere is this more evident than at “Nutcracker” rehearsals. “You can often hear dancers cheering each other on during the rehearsal process, both to support their peers, but also because they can empathize with how hard that dancer has worked to find their best performance for a specific part,” says Hensel-Browning. “That energy continues backstage at performances, where I can’t stop smiling while witnessing how these dancers celebrate each other.”

The Nutcracker will be performed Dec. 11 and 12 at Green Mountain Union High School in Chester, Vt. Tickets will be available in mid-November. For more information, please visit

Back To Top