Soldiers are marching, snowflakes are swirling, and sugar plum fairies are dancing in the wings as performers of the Wild Rivers Coast Conservatory of Dance prepare to present “The Nutcracker, A Modern Ballet.”

About 35 dancers will make up the cast of this fourth annual Brookings performance set Dec. 14-16 in the Azalea Middle School gym.

“They are an Ironman cast, we do with 35 dancers what most dance companies only dream of doing with a cast three or four times as big ...” said Sky-Marie McDonald, artistic director of the Wild Rivers Coast Foundation for Dance and the choreographer of the show.

McDonald has been training many of these dancers now for four years.

“Unlike most sports, dance is not seasonal and our dancers work all year, consistently, learning technique, building their physical instrument, learning choreography,” McDonald said. “They are an incredibly hard-working group of young people and I am so proud of how they are developing as dancers and artists.

“We have a brilliant show this year, the dancers just keep getting better and better. I keep making the choreography harder and harder for them. Most company dancers dance several roles, which is unusual.”

This year’s guest artist is Demi Trezona as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“I am excited to have her in our little town,” McDonald said. “It’s a real treat for Brookings.”

This year McDonald says she is particularly proud of the boys who have become staples in the dance company.

“Dance is definitely not just for girls,” McDonald said. “Male dancers are integral parts of the dance world and dance is incredibly athletic, challenging and beneficial for boys.

“It requires physicality, brute strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, focus, cooperation, memory, finesse ... so many things. It’s definitely not for sissies. Our boys who dance often provide comical relief when rehearsals get long and hard.”

Nate Bennett, 12, joined dance after his sister, Ruth Ann, had been a company member for a couple of years. Nate had struggled with Tourettes for several years.

His mother, Beverly, explained, “Last summer we had to take Nate off his medications for Tourettes due to complications and side effects. Although he has always been active in sports and theater and they have helped while he was actively participating, at home his tics were still severe.

“Since starting ballet, Nate’s aggressive Tourettes symptoms have gone completely latent. His neurologist is so impressed that she has written a recommendation that he discontinue his medication and continue ballet therapeutically.”

McDonald added, “We are seeing a lot of new research about the unique and unusual benefits of dance. Science is showing that dance re-wires the brain and helps with all sorts of things, like ADHD, Parkinsons, mood and emotional state, it lessens anxiety, the list goes on. The brain-body connection aspect of dance is amazing.”

Selah McDonald, 9, another Brookings ballet boy, says “Dance helps me feel good, I like the way it feels to make up new movements, flowing with the music, and I like to jump really big, I feel good after rehearsal, and performing is super fun, like a rush. And I like my dance friends, too.

“Girls are heavy though, picking them up. I need to do more push ups and eat more food so I can grow bigger muscles so I can do better at ‘Pas de Deux.’ Ballet is cool. Hip hop is still my favorite though. But Ballet is growing on me.”

Both Nate and Selah said they had fun learning the new “Pas de Deux” duets that will be featured in “Waltz of the Flowers.”

“This is our first time to feature some partnering in our ballet and the students are doing so well,” Sky-Marie McDonald said. “It’s been hilarious watching the girls and boys interact during this new venture.”

Shows are at 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $18 for general admission and $10 for children 12 and younger, and available at Wright’s Custom Framing and Art Supplies in Brookings, online at and at the door.