Local dancer to perform in holiday favorite ‘The Nutcracker’

Gladewater’s Cierra Mays (second from right) poses with her fellow ‘Nutcracker’ dancers during the 2022 production at Tyler Junior College. Tickets are currently on sale for the show’s latest run in early December, Mays’ second time in the company.

A Gladewater dancer is eager to step out on stage again this holiday season, and she’s deep into rehearsals for Tyler Junior College’s 35th annual production of “The Nucracker.”
Cierra Mays says she’s putting in 10-12 hours of practice per week nowadays with the winter show fast-approaching from the Tyler Junior College Academy of Dance. It’s the local 7th grader’s second year with the show after auditioning alongside 250 other dancers in early September.
The performers range from level ones through pre-professionals and top-rated dancers. The Gladewater Middle Schooler started taking ballet when she was 11 and is progressing through the levels.
“At first it was just a hobby,” she said, “but then it grew as a passion to do it.
“Now, when you’re 12, you audition with the older girls and adults. We don’t have a big studio, so it’s very crowded in there. It’s nerve-wracking, a little bit, but it’s fun.”
There are about half-a-dozen rehearsals left until the production begins its 2023 run in the Wise Auditorium in the Rogers Palmer Performing Arts Center on TJC’s central campus.
Performances are slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 and 8th; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2 and 9th; plus Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Dec. 3 and 10th.
Tickets for the show went on sale Nov. 2, available via TJC.edu/nutracker.
Dance itself has become a balm for the young dancer.
“It’s very soothing. It kind of smooths out my anxiety,” Cierra said. Likewise, “It kind of helps my ADHD. I just love to dance,” mostly ballet and jazz.
Cierra’s had to overcome difficult challenges to get where she is, according to her mother, Shalan Mays.
In addition to a neurocognitive disorder, “Cierra is a Type I diabetic,” Shalan said. “It’s very hard to find sports for diabetics. At first she wanted to try gymnastics,” but mom hesitated: “Let’s try ballet first, and if you don’t like it, we’ll change it.
“She was one of the marionette dolls last year,” and a love for it bloomed: “She said, ‘OK, I want to take this on fulltime.’”
Securing a second-time spot in this year’s production, Mays now plays a friend of the young protagonist, Clara, gifted a nutcracker doll by her mysterious uncle Drosselmeyer on Christmas Eve. The Gladewater student appears on stage in a ballroom party scene alongside a group of other dancers.
“It does get a little hectic,” Cierra said. “I get cranky when I’m sleepy, but when I get there, it’s all in fun. It’s exciting. It’s great to be there.”
Participation has certainly helped her build confidence, she added, and it’s helping her overcome being nervous or scared about dancing into the spotlights.
“When you get on stage, everything looks different,” Cierra sadi. “All your nervousness goes away. Just be yourself.”
Granted, honing her skills as a ballerina does bring its share of injuries, from bruises in pointe shoes to cramps, sprains and worse.
“It’s also soothing,” Cierra said. “It’s also a starting of a career,” she added, hoping the skill will make college a little easier as she eyes a school of dance in the Dallas area down the road.
While Cierra’s enjoying the practices, mom’s putting in the hours, too.
“As it gets closer to the opening dates, the later they stay,” Shalan said with a grin, steeling herself for more practices, late nights and the grand dress rehearsal the night before the production opens. “They’re there from 4:30 p.m. until 10 p.m.”
It’s worth it.
“You can tell she’s found her own. She owns it,” Shalan said. And, of course, “Whatever becomes a part of her becomes a part of her family. It’s like a breath of fresh air.”

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