What’s the Right Age for a Child to See The Nutcracker?

Shortly after the words “mama” and “dada,” came the word, “ballet.” At least for my child it did.  A word completely unfamiliar to me, but that’s how it happened.

Looking back, I can trace the origins – I took Rylan to Mommy and Me music and art classes right from the start – she was about 6-months-old when we began.  I wouldn’t have stopped, had it not been for rules prohibiting parents from attending classes when their kids (their only child) started getting older.  In fact, I remember pleading with teachers for a few more months.  I’d still do Mommy and Me classes today if I was allowed – she’s 13 and I’m sure she’d love that.

At any rate, Rylan would see older kids on their way to or from ballet classes.  I’d see her look and I, as a former tomboy, would grow worried and completely committed to a life of football for my daughter.  I distinctly remember her peeking into ballet classes as we’d rush to get to a Kindermusik class.  It became clear I was doomed.  And that’s how ballet entered our lives.

At about the age of three, she started her first ballet class.  Around the same time, I purchased a copy of the “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” DVD, featuring the New York City Ballet (NYCB) – she wore it out.  And another one.  And another one.  It was all she wanted to watch.

Some ‘experts’ will advise not to ruin the magic of seeing a live performance of “Nutcracker” by letting children see it first on DVD/TV.  I can tell you, with certainty, the magic of seeing a live performance of “Nutcracker” for my child was undeniable – this after seeing the DVD version 150 million times (or thereabouts).

Rylan was four.  I purchased the tickets for NYCB’s “Nutcracker” months in advance.  And of course, I didn’t tell her.  We ate dinner across from Lincoln Center, walked across the street and her eyes lit up, recognizing this was, in fact, Lincoln Center – home of the “Nutcracker” she had watched 150 million times.  People were milling about outside, dressed in their finest.  My husband and I looked down at Ry, who hadn’t said anything, and asked her if she knew where she was.  She did.  I then pulled out the tickets and the rest was history.  She was actually upset with having to leave her seat for intermission.  She was glued to the action on the stage from start to finish.

My daughter (on right), age four and first time seeing “The Nutcracker” – this one performed by the New York City Ballet.

Rylan started performing in Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s (BTM) “Nutcracker” in 2008 and I’ve been helping BTM with PR/social media/photography ever since, so I speak with some experience on the right age for taking a child to see a ballet, including “Nutcracker,” for the first time.

My daughter (at center with smile), dress rehearsal for Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s “Nutcracker.” 2008.

My answer is – it depends on the child.  And the parents.  I wanted my daughter exposed to the arts from the get-go and I’m fairly certain, given the abundance of evidence, this is nothing but good for the developing mind.  Study, after study, after study has shown early exposure to the arts have substantial benefits in all areas of intellectual growth.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes too – take for instance the piano class I signed Rylan up for, which was, I don’t know, about 20 years too early.

I’ve seen multiple BTM ballets now – there have been kids who couldn’t handle sitting through them, but the large majority have done just fine – all ages.  I’ve even seen former BTM dancers support their fellow dancers by coming to performances with newborns – exposure to the arts.  Yes, they’ve had to step out a few times, but that’s fine.  They stepped out.  I do remember others who didn’t step out of the theater with older children who should have.  A kid is just that – sometimes unpredictable and even the best of them will have off moments – I still do.

So, what can you do to prepare?  There are so many great “Nutcracker” books out there – take your pick and start reading them.  If you choose to go the DVD route, the one mentioned previously is the best option for kids, as far as I’m concerned.  Make sure kids know there’s no dialog on stage – none.  This is about dance and music.  And about Clara’s dream, which is just that – a dream.  Those mice and rats they’ll see on stage – a dream, not real.  They’ll also see kids on stage – maybe their own age – talk to them about how those kids have spent lots and lots of hours practicing for their roles and yes, some are in multiple roles.  For those who will be attending performances with opportunities to meet the professional dancers before the start of the ballet or during intermission (BTM does Sugar Plum parties one hour before curtain during Sunday matinees), take advantage of it.

Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s “Nutcracker.” No actual mice or rats are hurt in the ballet.

The bottom line is there is no standard right or wrong answer to the question of what age is the right age to see “Nutcracker” or any other ballet.  Supporting the arts or exposure to it – it’s never a bad investment.

As for my own daughter, after many years on stage, she now plays lacrosse and basketball.  Two weeks ago, she asked me to watch a video of something she said looks really cool.  She’s a teen so I had no idea what to expect.  It was a preview for an upcoming Rockettes performance.  The arts and exposure to it = priceless.




I’ll be around Maryland Hall for the next two weekends for BTM’s “Nutcracker” performances –   I’ll be the one taking photographs of audience members with the dancers in the Sugar Plum Parties, as I have done for many years.  Please say hi.  Tickets can be purchased here – http://www.marylandhall.org/nutcracker-0




3 Replies to “What’s the Right Age for a Child to See The Nutcracker?”

  1. I remember my sister in Nutcracker from about 4 yrs old on….she was always in it…every year a bigger character. When I was not on the ball field, I was at the ballet watching my little sister (7 years younger). I try to encourage my friends to bring their kids to concerts and performances…I think 7 on (but like you said depends not the kid). Good way to learn to behave and instill an appreciation for the arts early. The Saturday Candlelight Christmas at St. Anne’s is a perfect concert example…parents buy tickets, kid gets in free! Well of course only if they don’t already have Nut tickets for Saturday night:) Toi Toi Toi to the Ballet Theater of Maryland for a fabulous #Nutcracker season.

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