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Caroline Gerloff 

Creation Story

Birthplace: Richmond, Va., 1987.

Education: Attends Midlothian Middle School, 8th grade.

Where you can see her work: Gerloff will dance the role of Clara in the Richmond Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" Dec. 14 to 23 at the Carpenter Center. She shares the role with Katie Albert, who is Clara in the ballet's second cast for the show. (The two casts perform on alternate days.) Call 344-0906 for details.

When she started dancing: Gerloff took her first dance lessons at the Heritage Dance Center with Miss Margaret when she was 3 years old. At age 5, she began dancing at Richmond Ballet, and by the time she was 9, she was taking two ballet classes per week.

"It just kept building up," says Gerloff, a charming freckled redhead with a contagious giggle and a 50-watt smile. Now, while rehearsing for "The Nutcracker," Gerloff dances six days a week. She takes ballet lessons after school on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, and jazz and character classes on Thursday. Saturday and Sunday afternoons are spent in "Nutcracker" rehearsals at the Ballet.

Even when she's home, Gerloff dances. "I'm always doing turns in the kitchen and stuff," she says. "It gets really annoying to my sister."

What she likes about ballet: "I really like everything," she says. Until recently, she sometimes had a difficult time motivating herself to go to dance class while her friends played. "Now I'm getting to like it more," she says. "If I'm tired, I know I won't be tired once I start dancing. I just forget about it. And when you have a project or a lot of homework, you don't worry so much when you dance. You can just relax."

Gerloff says she also loves dancing en pointe. "It's hard — and hard on your toes — but it is really challenging," she says.

What she wants to be when she grows up: A professional dancer, of course. "It takes a lot of time," she says. Next year, when she starts high school, she must enter the Ballet's trainee program where she is required to take classes every day beginning at 1 p.m. "School doesn't end until 2:50, so it takes a lot of sacrifices," she says. Mostly, she will have to make sure all of her core classes are scheduled for the beginning of the day. And even with all the work, she knows there's no guarantee she will become a Richmond Ballet company dancer. But, she says, "Even if I'm not a dancer here, I would like to be a dancer somewhere."

What it is like being Clara: This is the second year that Gerloff will dance the role of Clara. It is something she has dreamed about since she was 8 and first appeared in "The Nutcracker" as a mouse.

"I really hoped that would be me someday," she recalls of watching an older girl play Clara. "Now it's funny because all of the little mice come up to me."

The first time she performed the role, she says, "It was really exciting, but I was really nervous. Once I get out onstage it's not bad at all. It's when I'm waiting to go on that I'm nervous. I feel more comfortable onstage because I know nobody can say anything to me — it's not like a rehearsal. I can't see the audience because it is dark. You can really act it out because you feel like you're the only one on stage.

The most difficult thing about being Clara: It's a tossup between the hair and the homework. "It is really hard to deal with homework," Gerloff says. During December, when the cast rehearses on stage at the Carpenter Center, rehearsals can sometimes go as late as 11 p.m. "It leaves practically no room for homework."

Then, once performances start, Gerloff has to put up with having her hair set in bouncy ringlets. Before each performance, her mother spends about 45 minutes carefully rolling her hair in straight rows with old-fashioned rollers. She must leave them in for 12 hours.

"People make fun of you in school," she says with a grimace. "Sometimes the principal won't let you wear a cloth over your head, and you have to go to school in curlers." It's also difficult to sleep in the rollers, she says. "It takes you like an hour to fall asleep."

How she feels when she is on stage: "I'm really happy," she says. "I always do best my first couple of nights. I'm really nervous, too, but it is really worth it. I like to bow and hear all the audience clap. That's really fun."

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