Balletious Nutcrackevitus

An important part of parenting is protecting your children from infectious disease. While my offspring have been able to avoid measles, mumps, and Jenny McCarthy, I am still a failure in this regard. You see, my daughter has contracted a condition that flares up every December. It elevates her stress levels, tires her out, and completely disrupts our life.

It is sad. She is only 12.img_2617

I wish there were a cure.

Some kids grow out of it, others learn to live with the condition even when it is in remission, but it never goes away.

This disease is called Balleritious Nutcrackevitus.img_2663

I heard it was first contracted in France. It found its way to my house when my oldest daughter was 5. It caused uncontrolled leaping and a swirly dizziness. She was a mess.DV IMAGE

I hoped she only had the juvenile strain but as time has gone by, it has only gotten worse.ballerina

At first it was almost amusing, but then it started taking over. The uncontrolled swirls gave way to these repetitive motions. She would squat then stand, squat, then stand- for hours. She would lift one leg, then put it down, over and over again, and again, and again, and a gain. It ate up all of her mind and soul, and finally, it ate my weekends.trainplea

We have tried everything. We have seen experts, spent thousands of dollars on treatments, and finally, we visited an institution.the-rock-school

It was like some sort of leper colony where similarly infected young people could commune and older people could commiserate together. It was supposed to be therapeutic but it seemed to only make things fester.performtheatre

We even tried relocating, thinking that perhaps a drier climate would help her system grow stronger. It was hard, she struggled. We thought she would finally break free, but then Decembers would roll around and she would succumb.rockchatting

One specialist recommended we try these orthopedic sort of shoes. They build in some sort of contraption to try to control the spinning. These medical devices are expensive and not covered by insurance. She has become completely dependent.toefittingpoint

I have learned that varying experts disagree on prescribed treatments. Vaganova says do this, Cecchetti says do that. Balanchine only treats a specific strain of the illness. I have been told that we have to pick a theory and go with it. I always want a second opinion.img_6537

I have watched the patient get worn down from a swirly little squiggle to becoming serious beyond her age. She tends to fixate and focus on every little bit of the therapy. You have never seen such a dedicated out-patient. All of the patients are that way. Fixated.img_8365-2

I fear that if she does not recover soon, institutionalization will be her only hope.anou6045

Merry Christmas Nutcracker families.

The Rock School For Dance Education: places I love

In my household exists an aspiring ballerina. She is young, but dedicated. Neither my wife or I know anything about ballet.

In fact, I think my first ballet was also my child’s first. Someone got us free tickets to the Nutcracker. This little girl was hooked.

Knowing nothing of schools or reputations we sent our little one to the neighborhood rec center. It was great. The kid was five.smoothness

One day, while we were playing at the please touch museum, a local ballet academy gave a small promotional performance in the museum’s theater. The flier they left behind looked legit and it said they gave scholarships.the rock school

I took my little girl to the try-outs, mostly because the place she was at didn’t have any fliers. So obviously this new place is better. Right?
line up

There were at least a hundred little girls with numbers pinned to their chest. They stood in rows while we parents huddled against the walls. It was tryouts but there was no real dancing. Two women, one with a clip board, would go to the children one by one, inspect their arches, look at their knees, rotate their hips. The groups were given some basic instructions and asked to follow along, one, maybe two steps, and that was it.rocktraining

We got a letter a month later congratulating us on our acceptance.

That is how we came to the Rock School for Dance Education, and unknowingly gave up all the Saturdays for the rest of our lives. They have a strict policy about missing class. It is simple, don’t miss class. The first year it was twice a week, then three the next, now we do three times a week plus rehearsals.trainjumpduo

Pretty strict for a bunch of little girls in dance class. But then again, I had no idea what, or rather where, my little girl was enrolled.

Everywhere claims to be good. All the other parents, the one’s who drive over from Jersey every day, say it is the greatest, but the cynic in me always wondered if they were just trying to reassure themselves.on pointe

I liked it well enough, but really, my kid was little. I would watch class during the one week when parents are allowed to do so, and the little girls and boys would stand up straight, go up on their toes, bend their legs, put their arms up in the air, rinse and repeat.


I know enough, to know that I know nothing, so I cannot judge. But then again, judging aside, I did find it interesting that this place where my girl was taking dance class, had dorms.

I should have thought a little more about that.toefittingpoint

Then came the school’s production of the Nutcracker.performtheatre

I struggle to find the correct comparison for what I saw. I came expecting a recital. The kind where doting parents clap and cheer for their child and endure everyone else’s children.


I have been to dozens of high school musical productions of varying quality, been to high school football games in the south, coached football against a private boarding school with the budget of a junior college, and I have never seen a production of any sort that matched the Rock School’s Nutcracker.

I had to keep telling myself these were kids.

Now the little kids were obviously kids, complete with small ones picking their nose and one little boy yelling he had to go potty mid performance, but then there were the principals. The Sugar Plum Fairy and the like, they not only killed the cynic in me, but left me in awe. These were kids, from first grade through 12th, and it was better than any age similar thing I have ever seen in any context; period.

There were plenty of other existing signs that should have kept Mr. cynic at bey.bluepantsboy

They have an alumni list touting kids who go on to Julliard, all sorts of division 1 colleges, and more in line with what they do, ballet companies.  Principal in the New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, dancers in every major company in the country, as well as Paris, Dresden, Berlin, and on and on and on.

The lead in Fame.

See for yourself. (click here)rockers

Then there was this little documentary that made a big splash at Sundance.

First Position follows a number of kids to and through the American Grand Prix, the big ballet competition for young folks.

Three of the kids they followed in the film went to the Rock.

And then there was my little girl.nutflying

My little girl is still little. Little enough that to assume that she will grow into one of these professionals would be presumptuous, and the folks at the Rock know this.

That is why it is on my list of places I love. Because they know she is a kid.

Because they know she is a kid, they treat her in a way that allows her to love to dance. They are strict, they are serious, but while walking around the lobby waiting for classes to get over, I get the vibe from those who work there, that they actually like kids.toelegs

I have been around coaches, art teachers, even dance instructors, who were once great. They were and are gifted in their craft, but just got old. No longer able to do what they once loved, they are forced to endure the existence of young people in order to make a living.

That’s not the Rock.toeteaching

No the place is not heavenly bliss, it can’t compete at the level it does and be all bliss. But I love it.

This last year, my third, I sat near the front row of the Nutcracker. A woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked if one of the girls was mine. I proudly pointed her out.

“Oh she’s still little. Does she like ballet?”

“Loves it.”

“Oh I’m so sorry.” she consoled patting my shoulder.

Not the answer I was expecting.

“That one is mine, (pointing to the Sugar Plum Fairy) we moved here from Oregon so she could go to the Rock.”

“We just drove here from about ten minutes away,” I replied a little embarrassed by my ignorance and good fortune.

Nutcracker 1776

Tickets are a bit steep but what do you do when the ticket is to see your own kid? What we did was buy one ticket with which the Mrs. saw the first half, then we switched at intermission.pinkballerinaWhen the lights began to dim I found my seat and sat down. The woman next to me looked over and remarked, “you don’t look like the woman who was here before.”

“Yes. She looks much better than I do. She’s my wife.”

“Not better; just different.”

I think I like this lady.crossI have seen the schools Nutcracker before but it still amazes me that it is more or less a high school production.

When the Sugarplum Fairy danced onto stage the excited woman on the other side of me proudly whispered, “that’s my daughter!”

She’s very good. The mother asked which one was mine. “O, she is little. Does she like ballet?”

“She loves it.”

“I am soooo sorry,” she said in all seriousness. “We moved here from Oregon for my daughter to go to this school.”littlemakAs I watched my girl all done up in lipstick and blush, bun pulled back tight, I wonder if there will come a moment when this all ends. Will she decide she is done? Perhaps my budget will crush her dream, or maybe a stone faced instructor will one day have to tell her that her skill has taken her as far as she can go and that its over.nut2012

But none of those times are now. Now is all smiles and this strange soft, mushy feeling I get when I see her stand with straight back and elongated neck on stage. I love the wide eyed excitement in her face when she tells me all about how the little kid she was in charge of is a hand full and how she got to be in the front row and how there is an after party and can we please, please, please go?

My fear of tomorrow can wait till then.

Around Town, a Civil Saturday

Just a regular Philadelphia Saturday.  It rained.

There were two other guys and a tree in the photo, I didnt like them.

After Sumter was shelled, Lincoln sent out a call for troops to defend the nation’s capitol.  A capitol that moved to the Virginia border some years before to appease the same states who were now in rebellion.  Philadelphia answered the call then, and this morning we ventured out to watch the troops muster 150 years later in commemoration.

If you knew your history, then you would know where I’m coming from, and you wouldn’t have to ask me, who the ___ do I think I am. I’m a buffalo soldier.

Some years after that initial call, black men were allowed to enlist.  The first and largest training ground for these troops was just outside Philadelphia.  In honor of those who trained there, this was the battalion who led this mornings parade.

It was cold and wet.  So much so that Mrs. Hammas wouldn’t get out of the car, Littlehammas 2.0 slept in the car seat, and Littlehammas1.0 wouldn’t even wave back to the guy on the horse as it would have somehow interfered with her whining about the cold.

I once saw General Meads stuffed horse in a row house not far from here.

Having failed at my attempt at sewing the seeds of history nerdiness, we moved on to plan B, which was just plain nerdiness.

Childrens Science Festival

There was a man throwing a bucket of liquid nitrogen onto the wet street, allowing kids to stomp around in the clouds it created, a woman making tornadoes in 2 litre bottles, and jugglers.  I think the jugglers wandered over from the library’s children’s book fair that was going on 20 yards away.

2.0 learning about the solar car.

For some reason this sort of nerdiness is more fun than the guys playing dress up, carrying guns, and riding horses.  I will add this to my list of things beyond me, and do my best to get on board.

It won’t be that hard as I think the long term pay off of science geekdom is far above that of history buff.  Sure Ken Burns is great but he’s no Bill Gates.

Then again, maybe Princess trumps them all.

1.0 at the Rock School

Around Town, the weekend

After ten years of marriage and two kids, my wife still likes me.

I’m not quite sure how this initial like was achieved, I vacillate between blaming it on blind luck or superior sales skills, but despite how I got it, I intend to keep it.  Doing this requires a combination of changing diapers, running errands, and taking her on dates.  In our home all three are necessities.

We once belonged to a babysitting co-op with a bunch of associates in a more “uh-hm… safe”, part of town.  It worked out great as when it was our turn to watch a rabid pack of 2 year olds on a Friday night, no one would show up.  This inequity would normally be to our advantage but the arrangement soured due to the lack of dining options in this so called safe haven.  Since this period of our life I have successfully avoided Applebee’s and hope to extend this streak for years to come.

We now pay for a babysitter.

Having abandoned the suburbs, we now brave the notorious crime infested streets of Philadelphia on our Friday nights. 

A distinguishing feature of the notorious inner-city is the candy store… or wait… how bout what looks like a candy store but is really a soap store.  Yes friends, all these treats are really body washes and bubble baths.

Not only are our weekly ventures tainted by falsely advertised treats, but the mean streets become even scarier when we realize they are lined by restaurants we cannot afford.

Mrs.Hammas is street savvy and can find the safe spots.

Max Brenner is one of these.  They have food, but we came for the dessert.  I went for chilli spiced hot chocolate and she went for chocolate pecan egg rolls.

The food was food, the company even better, and because we are ten years older than when we started this nonsense, the evening was over before ten.

For the younger set, the morning after can oft mean regret.  For me it means ballet practice.

Littlehammas 1.0 has a deep-seated desire to be a princess ballerina scientist.  Never one to hinder ones climb to greatness, we have obliged her in these pursuits.  These endeavours have brought me in touch with another type of inner city street hoodlum; the ballet mom.

Now in the past I have been around the relaxed parent who chuckles at their kid’s mistakes and smiles as they stumble through pretend lessons… not at this place.  Intimidated by their thuggery I nod faux agreement as they complain that the teachers feet are not properly visible due to her pant length, squabble over how skill levels are measured, and then shrug off how the Nutcracker after party comes with a $10 “chaperone” fee.  Littlehamas 1.0 is six years old.  It’s amazing how the streets target our youth.

Having rescued Littlehamas 1.0 from these treacherous mobs, we stumbled upon a bike gang.  Not biker, but bicycler.

These bikers weren’t the new harmless youth, they were old school.  Old school like tweed and argyle socks.

Another staple of the ghetto, er… city, is graffiti.  This unauthorized painting of other people’s property is done to claim a territory and serve as warning to those who are out of their own turf to beware.

In Philadelphia this problem has gotten so bad that it has spread to the inside of people’s homes.  Not only is it on interior walls, but hooligan graff-heads are taking credit for other’s artwork.  Pictured is proof, as I caught the Mrs. signing her name to  one of my pictures.  Is nothing sacred?

Its rough here in this town.  I’m not sure how much longer we can last.