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Like most eighth graders, Hannah Howorth wakes up, attends school, then heads home at 3 p.m. But once the Forest Parker leaves school, her day has only just begun. After a long day of school, Howorth, 13, heads over to Legere Dance Center in River Forest for an intensive dance class and full evening of practice. She is currently preparing for the lead role of Clara in the Ballet Legere Nutcracker at Dominican University, and doesn’t quite know how she balances school and ballet.  

“I try to get a lot of my homework done at school, but if I can’t, then I find time to do it around dance. Otherwise I stay up until 11 to get it done,” she said.   

Her mother Mary attributes Howorth’s ability to gracefully balance the rigors of both school and sport to her diligence and self-directedness. Those same qualities no doubt have helped prepare Howorth for the biggest role of her dancing career thus far. 

Hannah started dancing with Legere nine years ago, though her first experience with dance took place at the River Forest Community Center, where she took classes at the age of 4. It was Mary’s idea to enroll Howorth in the community center classes, thinking she seemed to be a natural dancer. 

“Anytime music came on, Hannah would start moving,” Mary said. 

Howorth enjoyed the classes and her parents enrolled her at Legere in kindergarten. 

Now that Howorth has reached a higher level, allowing her to take on more mature and challenging roles, her life is mostly focused around school and dance. Howorth enjoys the rigorous schedule along with the community she finds within the world of dance. 

“When I dance, I love my friends,” she said. “They are always really supportive and they’re part of the reason I love to dance.” 

Mary agreed, explaining that the positive, noncompetitive climate makes Legere a healthy environment for children to learn to dance in. 

“The directors and people who teach the classes are really encouraging, and it’s a very positive place,” Mary said. “They want each dancer to be the best that they can be, and that’s why Hannah has stuck with it so long.”

The positive environment does not translate to a lack of rigor, though, and Howorth admits to feeling very tired by the end of each day. Ballet is a sport that requires serious discipline. 

“Her physical conditioning is as much as any serious athlete,” Mary said.

The fall is especially intense, now that she has undertaken the role of Clara, a character present in most scenes in the production. It is not uncommon for Howorth to average 10 to 12 hours of rehearsal time over the course of a weekend. When not practicing for the Nutcracker, Howorth assists with lower level classes at Legere two days per week and takes her own classes four days a week, followed by rehearsals for the Nutcracker on Saturdays and Sundays, all adding up to a grand total of six days of dance per week.

The Ballet Legere Nutcracker is unique in that it features dancers from all over the Chicago area, all of whom are predominately high school age and younger. For this reason, Mary thinks it’s a perfect introduction for kids to the Nutcracker. 

“It’s a great show for young kids without the expense of other productions,” she said. “You worry about taking your 5-year-old to one of the more professional shows, but this is very family friendly. It’s a great introduction to dance and theater.”

Legere offers classes for students age preschool to high school, meaning Howorth has just a few years left at the studio. While Howorth is still deciding on which high school to attend, one thing she knows for sure is that she will continue to dance, even through college. 

“If I don’t pursue dance professionally, then I would still like to do it for fun,” she said. 

Howorth will play her debut role as Clara in the 2018 production of the Ballet Legere Nutcracker, which will be held December 6-10 at Dominican University Lund Auditorium. Tickets are available now on the Ballet Legere website.

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