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: Here's a story about one Christmas tradition, a performance of The Nutcracker ballet, that's taking a cue from another Christmas tradition. A sing-along performance of Handel's Messiah. It's a dance-along Nutcracker with a few other Christmas characters in there, too. It's an annual fundraiser for the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Band. Nathanael Johnson, from member station KALW, was in the audience.

NATHANAEL JOHNSON: It's one of those drizzly, gray San Francisco afternoons. And there's already a long line of people in the theatre lobby. Amy Worth is waiting with her daughter Annaka, who is dressed with a little extra flair.

ANNAKA WORTH: This is my tutu, and this the dress.

AMY WORTH: We heard about the dance-along Nutcracker thing.

WORTH: Well, you dance along to the Nutcracker music.

JOHNSON: The doors open and about 400 people surge into the hall. It's a ballroom with chairs set out in two blocks, with wide isles and good wooden floors for dancing. There's no raised stage, no division between the performer and the audience. A hush falls over the crowd as the lights go down, and then:

ASHLEY WHEATER: I said, Are you ready to dance?

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CROWD CHEERING)

JOHNSON: In this production, Drosselmayer has become a sort of Scrooge hybrid.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE)

WHEATER: Bah, humbug, no!

JOHNSON: And Marley returns to haunt him a hot, little red dress. As soon as the first scene is over, the lights come up again and everyone spills out of their seats.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM "THE NUTCRACKER")

JOHNSON: A four-year-old twirls past, followed by her mother. A man in a tutu dips his partner. There's a whole train of women, frosted in the confection of feathers and lace.

JANET SCHOYER: We have wonderful pink and white net fluffy skirts and fabulous golden tiaras with ballerinas bouncing off, wonkily to the left and fabulous wands. I like to dance and get crazy, and this is an excuse to this in public and not get arrested.

JOHNSON: Janet Schoyer spent law last week making her costume, but if you didn't dress-up, you can still get some duds from Phillip Wells(ph).

PHILLIP WELLS: We have tutu rentals for you. Or there are blinking tiaras, and Santa hats, and elf shoes for ballarinies(ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM "THE NUTCRACKER")

JOHNSON: Let's face it, if anybody here really knows how to dance The Nutcracker Suite, they're kind of lost in the crowd. It's a befrocked mass of people shuffling around the chairs. Some of the kids are focused on dancing every last beat. Others stare open-mouthed at the madness all around them. Everyone looks pretty goofy, but it's hard to care about looking cool when you're dancing with a bunch of five-year-olds. The lights go down again, and Drosselmayer is haunted by three spirits. The set for this part of the play is filled with gravestones, marking the final resting places of Marley, Tchaikovsky, Liberace, and disco.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS)

JOHNSON: But the performers don't make the audience wait too long, before turning the floor over to them again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM "THE NUTCRACKER")

JOHNSON: In the end, everyone has had a chance to try out their arabesques, and Drosselmayer sees the error of his ways and sings a duet of redemption with Marley. As the show draws to a close, tiny girls, big, bearded men, and grandmothers have all, for a few moments, been the ballerina they've always wanted to be.

For NPR News, I'm Nathanael Johnson in San Francisco.

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