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Fredericksburg family dances together in 'The Nutcracker'

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Sleeping Beauty was in trouble. It was 1989 in Salem, Va., and her ballet was about to start — but her prince, Desiré, was nowhere to be found. In Lexington, a ballet dancer named John Mayer heard of princess Aurora’s distress and drove 53 miles to be her fill-in partner. What neither of them realized at the time was that Terry, who played Aurora, and John, who played prince Desiré, would become partners for life.

After a courtship full of lifts, leaps and pirouettes, the ballerina and her danseur all but danced up the aisle of St. Andrew’s Church in Roanoke five years later. They moved to Fredericksburg shortly after and joined the Fredericksburg Center Ballet in 1995. Since then, they have danced in dozens of shows together along with their three children, Jessica, Grace and Patrick.

“We all love the idea of creating something that is interesting for other people to view. Having a shared experience is just great. We never pushed any of them into it so we know that is what they want to do,” said John. “When you are actually all together during the five-hour rehearsals, instead of one or two, it is extra time together.”

John’s interest in ballet began at 16 in a theater class at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg. His theater teacher encouraged him to take dance.

“I loved it so I kept doing it,” said John. “There aren’t that many male dancers in the amateur circuit.”

John continued dancing during his undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech and while completing his master’s in physics at George Mason University in Fairfax.

He enjoys performing with his family, especially when all five end up on stage together — which is rare.

“There was only one ‘Sleeping Beauty’ where Terry and I were the king and queen, Jess was the bluebird, Grace was Little Red Riding Hood and Patrick was in the Puss in Boots dance,” said John.

These days, work and college prevent the two daughters from performing with the troupe. Jessica, 24, works in the applied physics lab at Johns Hopkins in Maryland while Grace, 22, attends James Madison University in Harrisonburg as a  dual major in dance and geographic science. Patrick, 19, is in his first year at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. While he is not pursuing any dance degree, he still dances at the Fredericksburg Ballet Center.

In addition to performing, John and Terry Mayer also teach ballet at the center.

“Terry teaches all the time but I come in and join her on Wednesday nights for a partner class,” said John. “I think it helps that we are married because it helps people to see the masculinity in ballet.” One of his favorite roles happened last year when he, Terry and Patrick performed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” John played the fairy king Oberon, Terry played the fairy queen Titania and Patrick played the changeling child.

“We put a whole lot into it because we didn’t know it very well,” said John. “It took me a year to go back and look at the video of that. And I watched it and was like wow, we did pretty well.”

What the family did not realize at the time was that it would be John’s final dancing role.

A mix of old injuries and greater involvement at work as an electronics engineer at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station for the U.S. Navy in Lexington Park, Md., motivated the decision to hang up his dancing shoes. But he hasn’t stopped performing altogether.

“The Nutcracker Ballet” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one of the most popular ballets for many ballet troupes during the holiday season and the Fredericksburg Center Ballet is no different. Over the years, each member of the Mayer family has performed the lead role of either the sugar plum fairy or her cavalier.

Audiences attending this year’s performance at James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg will see Terry as Clara’s grandmother, Patrick as the snow king and John in the non-dancing role of Drosselmeyer, Clara’s godfather.

“It was nice to be able to segue into this Drosselmeyer role,” said John. “It is a chance for me to get out there and entertain. I recognize that what talent I have is a God-given gift and it is nice to be able to use that for other people’s enjoyment.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019