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COMIC: Reflections On 'The Nutcracker' And Gender Identity

Comic. A scene of a ballet dancer portraying Clara holds up a toy nutcracker on stage. At the start of December, I was struck by nostalgia for The Nutcracker. Kaz looks at a laptop and says "wish I could go to a performance....""Wait. There are like a billion recordings."* *If only there were that many
Clara holds hand with a soldier as they pass through different scenes from the show. As someone who grew up with dance, The Nutcracker holds a very special place in my heart. Young Kaz looks at a toy nutcracker as music notes play in the background in a home decorated for Christmas. It practically defined my holiday season as a kid.
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A young ballet dancer practices while two young children dressed in animal costumes watch her. All of us younger kids looked up to the older dancers. I had the impression that it was many of the girls' dreams to be cast as Clara. (She was lead, after all.) Being Clara was somewhat of a dream of mine, too. Clara cradles the nutcracker in her arms.
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Young Kaz is dressed in various girls' costumes. I'd been in the standard ensemble roles and then one year, I was cast as: a boy guest! The dream of Clara was forgotten entirely. Kaz is dressed in boy's costume, with a hat and vest.
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Young Kaz is smiling while dressed in a boy's costume while holding a sword. But my experience with The Nutcracker (and ballet as a whole) would peak the next year, when I was cast as Clara's younger brother, Fritz. It was as if my joy as a boy guest had been multiplied tenfold.
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Young Kaz, dressed as Fritz, dances against a dark background. As Fritz, I was able to embody a character whose gender was explicitly not the one that I had been assigned. That performance was the happiest I'd ever been in dance.
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Young Kaz with longer hair looks down. The year after that, I was back in "girl roles," and my love for performing in The Nutcracker dramatically deflated. It wasn't much longer before I quit ballet altogether.
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Present day Kaz smiles while looking at the laptop with music notes coming out. It would take another decade or so for me to realize the personal significance of those roles. But it's nice to look back on it all with fondness. "The end" is heard from the laptop.
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Kaz Fantoneis an illustrator based in Southern California and was NPR's illustration intern this fall.

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