Nutcracker

Sophie Lopez won the coveted role of Clara in a touring production of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. “The Nutcracker Suite” will be a small portion of that holiday event.

Some people spend their whole lives chasing a dream but never quite catch up to it.

For Sophie Lopez — a tiny girl, all long blonde ringlets and ruffled blue dress, who pirouettes and stands straight on pointe in pastel pink ballet shoes — her dream is at her fingertips.

The 11-year-old Pleasant Valley Elementary sixth-grader has been chosen to be one of two Claras in a national touring company of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular that includes “The Nutcracker.”

“This is a dream come true,” said her mother, dance instructor Stephanie Lopez, dance instructor and owner of Movements in Dance studio. “Clara is a magical role for a little girl.”

Sophie has been dancing in her mother’s studio since she was 18 months old.

“But I like to say she’s been dancing since before she was born,” Stephanie said with a laugh.

They found information about auditions on the Web and went to Radio City Music Hall in New York City in May. Sophie made it through all three cuts and was measured, videotaped and photographed just in case she was chosen. She’d be notified on Aug. 1 if she got the job.

On Aug. 1 she was in Las Vegas on a scholarship for Dance Educators of America’s Ballet Seminar with her mother when the call came. Only she was at lunch, so when their cell rang, her mom answered.

“They said, ‘This is Madison Square Garden Entertainment,’ and I caught my breath. This could be the call.”

She ran for Sophie, wanting her to be the first to officially hear the news.

“Would you like to accept the role of Clara?” they asked her.

“I would be happy and honored,” the 11-year-old calmly replied.

Mom wasn’t as cool, though.

“There were tears in my eyes. I felt extremely proud. When you’re a dance teacher and you have a daughter who dances, you always want great things for her.

“And after it starts happening, you have to pinch yourself. I want her to dance but I also want her to do what she wants to do. She really has a passion for ballet.”

Only two Claras were chosen for each touring company.

“They alternate the cast, so there’s not a lot of jobs for little girls. That’s why we feel so honored that she’s a part of the show.”

Sophie has enjoyed some history with the coveted role. She saw the performance in New York with she was 3.

“And to think she’ll be doing that role is just amazing,” her mother said.

She also auditioned for Clara two years ago in New York City but didn’t make the cut.

“I’ll never forget. She came out and said, ‘I’ll be back, Mom.’ And she is back and got the job.”

She has also appeared in the Pittsburgh Youth Ballet performance and was Clara in her mom’s studio’s production last year.

“I’m very proud of her. She’s set her goals and really works hard to get there.”

Sophie left for Myrtle Beach last Tuesday for a week of rehearsals with the second Clara and rest of the cast. Then she flies to Buffalo for more rehearsals and then performs there from Nov. 13-30. Then she’ll go by tour bus to Cleveland for the show Dec. 4-28.

A tour bus of classmates and their parents will journey to Cleveland to see her on stage.

Hers isn’t an overnight success. Sophie has worked very hard and made a lot of sacrifices.

She practically lives at her mother’s dance studio, rehearsing four hours a day Monday through Thursday, with extra work on Fridays and Saturdays. She takes some time off for swimming on Fairmont State’s FAST team.

She’s given up lazing in front of the TV, talking on the phone, having sleepovers ... things that girls of any age love.

But it’s beginning to paying off.

The experience of touring and being away from home will help Sophie figure out if this is what she wants to dedicate her life to.

She’ll be away from home for the next two months. Her grandmother Virginia Lopez will be with her and her mom will join her on weekends.

She’ll have to live in a hotel room far from home, family and friends. And she’ll have to spend Thanksgiving in Buffalo and Christmas in Cleveland.

“I’ll miss my mom, but I’m really excited,” she said. She’s also looking forward to not being at school, but don’t worry, teacher: She and the other Clara will be tutored 15 hours a week.

On the plus side, she’ll have the excitement of being on stage and honor of playing Clara. And she’ll be surrounded by “creative, talented dancers and that’s what she loves,” Stephanie said.

“It will be hard on me. I’ve never been away from her for more than a day. I’ll miss her, but her goals and dreams are more important. And I’m all behind her.”

Sophie already knows what she wants to do when she grows up: dance — whether with a ballet company or on Broadway.

And if she can’t do that ...

“I’ve never really thought about that,” Sophie said. “I love ballet. I feel good when I do it. I love the movement.”

But she’s not all ballet and dance. She likes to swim, sing, play badminton with her grandmother ... and travel.

“If she had two lives, she’d probably swim and dance,” her mother said.

Like her swim idol, Michael Phelps, she’s learned dedication, focus and discipline.

“She dedicates most of her time after school to dance. She gets her homework done and is a straight-A student.

“I always tell her it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice. And she’s a nice kid.”

The best thing about it all for Stephanie is watching her daughter on stage.

“It just takes my breath away. She did a Youth American Grand Prix ballet competition last April in New York City. I was sitting in the balcony with all these incredible famous ballet people and my daughter was on stage and I was looking at her through opera glasses.

“I said to my mother, ‘Can you believe I’m looking at my daughter through opera glasses in New York City?’”

“The Nutcracker” (which also features an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus) is a small part of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The Rockettes are the stars, accompanied by a 12-member dancing ensemble. The finale features a live Nativity scene.

“We’re in the same part of the show as in the New York City show, so we’re very excited,” Stephanie said.

“Sophie chooses this. I tell her life is about choices. You choose where your life goes. If you make the right choices, you’ll be paid back.”

“A lot of girls auditioned. Sophie is one of the best in the country,” said Michael Donaghy, assistant to the director of the radio city Christmas Spectacular.

“We were looking for girls under 4’11” who are energetic and can dance on pointe, someone who when they get on stage looks like a young girl who is excited about Christmas.

“Clara is the role for young girls,” he said. “In our show, she is the only girl. Clara, especially in classical ballet, is the only big role for a young girl.”

It’s also a stepping-stone for a career in the performing arts.

“One (former Clara) is in the New York Ballet now and one just did the lead role in ‘Legally Blond’ on Broadway.”

Meanwhile, Sophie, this 11-year-old veteran of ballet, has this advice for younger dancers: “Just keep practicing. Go to auditions. Keep dancing.”

E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

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