Eight Counts debuts “The Nutcracker” as first unofficial production


Maia Spoto/Daily Senior Staffer

Medill freshman Angel Jordan leaps as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Jordan founded Eight Counts alongside Communication freshmen Amanda de la Fuente with an emphasis on inclusion. “This is going to be a family,” Jordan said. “We’re going to collaborate on just about everything.”

Charlotte Varnes, Development and Recruitment Editor

Growing up as a military kid, Medill freshman Angel Jordan moved often.

But regardless of where she lived, she knew one part of her life would stick around.

“Ballet was my one constant thing that I could always count on,” Jordan said. “Because I could always find a ballet studio.”

Dance played a similarly important role in Communication freshman Amanda de la Fuente’s experience. De la Fuente, who grew up dancing in Chicago, learned to calm her anxiety and set boundaries as she advanced in the ballet studio.

Both Jordan and de la Fuente were surprised when they arrived at Northwestern and discovered there were no student ballet organizations — yet.

Jordan said she and de la Fuente decided to “just go for it.” The pair founded Eight Counts, a new ballet group on campus that’s kicking off its first unofficial production of “The Nutcracker” this quarter. The pair flyered around campus, spoke with members of other dance groups and connected with Physics Prof. Gayle Ratliff, who has a classical ballet background. Ratliff would soon become their faculty advisor.

A ballet dancer wearing a crown is photographed by someone holding a cellphone. The two are in a ballroom with warm stage lighting.
Communication freshman Laila Spencer films Jordan performing her Sugar Plum Fairy variation. Spencer is filming the pieces for Eight Counts to compile into a videotaped Nutcracker performance. (Maia Spoto/Daily Senior Staffer)

“I’m just super excited,” Jordan said. “There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for it … In (about) a month, we had a list of 18 names and a faculty advisor, and we were working on a constitution, and everything just started happening.”

As the organization took shape, Jordan said she and de la Fuente realized the holiday season was quickly approaching and the group’s new members might be interested in putting on “The Nutcracker.” They sent a mid-October email to anyone who had reached out with interest in joining the group asking about whether they would dance in “The Nutcracker.” Gradually, the cast grew to 10 dancers. 

The group started choreographing a filmed performance of “The Nutcracker” in October. Eight Counts doesn’t audition members to join the group. Everyone who wants to dance is welcome, regardless of skill set or experience.

“A lot of our choreography, we ended up just changing to their body,” Jordan said. “(We’d say), ‘oh, it doesn’t make sense for you to do this if you can’t get your leg 180 (degrees). Neither can I  — that’s fine. We’re not going to do that.’” 

Weinberg junior Carly Galvin said she was initially worried about jumping back into ballet with Eight Counts because she hadn’t performed since her senior year of high school. She was a “little bit rusty,” Galvin said. But she didn’t find the choreography overwhelming in the end. Certain changes, like taking a dance number off pointe and moving some of her dances to indoor spaces, made her feel more comfortable.

“The Nutcracker” rehearsals have taken place all over campus, from East Fairchild to The Wirtz Center ballroom. De la Fuente said most of the group’s rehearsals happen during the day, because that’s when most theatre spaces tend to be available.

While organizing “The Nutcracker,” de la Fuente and Jordan also applied for the group to become an official student organization. But Student Organizations and Activities ultimately denied their application, because another group — Ballet Company — also sought approval at the time. Now, the groups are merging to become Eight Counts Ballet Company.

Two people share a hug and smile. One is wearing a crown and the other is wearing a mask.
Jordan and de la Fuente hug after they finish filming the Sugar Plum variation. One of their favorite Eight Counts memories this quarter was learning de la Fuente and Jordan lived in the same dorm. “Day two of working on Nutcracker, we (told our dorm), we’re sorry — you’re gonna be hearing Nutcracker music for the next two months,” Jordan said. “But everyone’s been really chill.” (Maia Spoto/Daily Senior Staffer)

De la Fuente said the organization’s disapproval was initially confusing given that there are several already-existing dance groups on campus that are very similar to one another. She wasn’t sure why ballet was any different.  

“We were so excited to get started, we were (thinking), ‘Once we get approval, we’re going to start working and actually doing things,’” de la Fuente said. “Now, we have to step back and refocus a bit, which is stressful.”

But de la Fuente said the group is looking forward to merging with Ballet Company and working toward inclusivity in ballet together.

When founding Eight Counts, both de la Fuente and Jordan were conscious of how the structure of ballet has the potential to negatively impact dancers’ mental health. De la Fuente said the ballet world can generally be harmful to dancers’ wellbeing. 

“The ballet world is extremely stressful and anxiety-inducing,” she said. “We want to create the most welcoming and inclusive environment possible so that people don’t feel stressed. They feel most comfortable being themselves and challenging themselves, but also enjoying it.”

Galvin said she has struggled with having a larger chest as a dancer, calling it a “point of exclusion” in the past because most costumes are not designed for dancers with that body type. 

Her old dance studio, though, always tailored costumes to fit her body. She continues to feel welcome at Eight Counts, whose costuming policies allow dancers to wear whatever feels most comfortable. 

“That’s what made me first join the group, (Angel and Amanda) being like, ‘We want this to be an inclusive space, regardless of race or size or sexual orientation,’” Galvin said. “It’s been a great experience, from that perspective.”

Eight Counts hopes to wrap up filming by the end of Fall Quarter. 

Their goal is to premiere the film on Jan. 7 — Jordan’s birthday, and the day after Día De Los Reyes, a holiday that honors the Three Wise Men, which de la Fuente celebrates. 

“It’s a very festive time for us,” de la Fuente said. “We’re going to try to combine all these celebrations into one and have a big screening party.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charvarnes11

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