With Busy Nutcracker Schedules, Dancers Create Their Own Thanksgiving Traditions

November 21, 2023

Each November, when most of the country is slowing down in preparation for Thanksgiving, ballet dancers are ramping up for their busiest time of the year: Nutcracker season. But with notoriously intense rehearsal schedules eating up precious time and energy, it can be tricky to find time to celebrate, especially for those who have to be back at the studio, or even the theater, the following day. And Thanksgiving can be especially difficult for dancers who have relocated far from family to pursue their careers.

In these cases, company members often come together and create their own Friendsgivings to provide comfort and community amidst the grueling Nutcracker run.

A group of seven people gather closely on a couch and smile for the camera. They are dressed casually and pose underneath a large print haning on the wall.
Schuyler Wijsen (center, in white T-shirt) with other members of Boston Ballet. Photo courtesy Wijsen.

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so it’s important for me to find joy and not lose sight of the holiday season,” says Schuyler Wijsen, who is originally from California and joined Boston Ballet three years ago. “Friendsgiving is a chance to sit down together before the big Nutcracker marathon, share gratitude, and reset your mind. It also builds camaraderie, which we can bring to the stage.”

This year, Wijsen is co-hosting Friendsgiving with another company member, and they are expecting about 20 more dancers to attend. To accommodate the large group, Wijsen plans on providing some basic traditional foods—he always bakes his grandmother’s Dutch apple cake—and letting guests fill in the gaps with their own homemade dishes.

A Friendsgiving potluck can make the holiday more personal and fun, especially in a ballet company where many cultures are often represented. “Our company is very diverse,” says Washington Ballet dancer Nardia Boodoo, who has attended several Friendsgivings throughout the years. “For example, we have a large number of Cuban dancers, so they typically like to make Cuban food for everyone. Some dancers from the South will make Southern dishes that might not be on the traditional Thanksgiving menu, but they fit into Friendsgiving perfectly. My father is from Trinidad and he’s Indian, so, for me, bringing curried crabs, goat, or duck is my way of contributing.”

Nardia Boodoo and Rafael Bejarano Vidal perform the Arabian dance from The Nutcracker. Boodoo poses in an attitude devant on pointe with her left leg raised and her right leg in plié. Vidal stands to her ef;t and holds both of her hands to help her balance. She wears a short skirt and midriff top decorated with tassels and beads, a beaded choker and beaded headband, and brown pointe shoes. Vidal wears a red loincloth and red feathered cap.
Nardia Boodoo with Rafael Bejarano in The Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker. Photo by xmbphotography, courtesy TWB.

Thanksgiving celebrations have evolved for married couple Asuka Sasaki and Christophor Moulton, principal dancers with Colorado Ballet. Sasaki, who is Japanese, recalls her first American Thanksgiving with Moulton’s family, and the way she fell in love with the holiday dedicated to cooking indulgent foods. Before the birth of their daughter, the couple would often attend Colorado Ballet Friendsgivings abundant with dishes from many cultures. “Russian dancers would bring borscht, and I would make my favorite Japanese foods for everyone to try,” says Sasaki.

Now that they’ve started a family, their celebrations have gotten smaller. “As seasons of life change and your place in the company shifts, you tend to have more responsibilities during Nutcracker season,” notes Moulton. “These days, Thanksgiving has become more about being home, being together, and resting.” The two company veterans have begun their own tradition of cooking, watching football, taping the parade, and decorating their Christmas tree. They spend all week—when they are not in the theater—meal prepping for the big day.

Asuka Sasaki and Christopher Moulton perform a pas de deux together onstage during a performance of The Nutcracker. Sasaki, wearing a purple tutu, does a penché on pointe with her right leg up as Moulton, who wears a purple tunic and tights, poses behind her and holds both of her hands. Behind them, a man and woman sit on a throne and watch.
Asuka Sasaki and Christophor Moulton perform the Grand Pas de Deux in Colorado Ballet’s production of Nutcracker. Photo by David Andrews, courtesy Colorado Ballet.

For dancers in a new city, finding a sense of community during the holidays can be more daunting, but also more crucial. “Remember that so many other dancers alongside you are in the same position,” says Wijsen. “We are all trying to balance old traditions with our lives as professional dancers, so don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Make the effort.” Whether you roast a turkey or bring the curried crabs, it seems the only real requirement for a proper Friendsgiving is participation.

“You really realize what the holiday is all about,” Wijsen says. “Coming together as a family with a group of loved ones, saying thanks for all of the blessings in your life, having gratitude, and taking a step back to really be grateful for all of it.”

Tips for a Less Stressed Thanksgiving

Christopher Moulton and Asuka Sasaki, both in costume for The Nutcracker, pose together closely backstage with their baby daughter Emika. Sasaki, who is holding EMika, wears a blue, pink and yellow pastel tutu and crown. Moulton wears a short purple jacket with a blue vest underneath and purple tights.
Moulton and Sasaki with daughter Emika. Photo courtesy Colorado Ballet.
  1. Hosting Friendsgiving? Make it a potluck! There’s no need to do everything yourself. “Dancers from all over the world can bring something different for the group to experience,” says Wijsen.
  2. Don’t fancy yourself a chef? You can still pitch in. Offer to do the dishes or bring a fun game or activity for the group to enjoy. “Friendsgiving should be a friend activity, so no one is overexerting themselves before the daunting run of shows ahead. Everyone should contribute something,” says Boodoo.
  3. Do what makes you happy. With the Nutcracker on the horizon, you deserve a chance to enjoy your day off. There’s nothing wrong with preferring a small, intimate gathering—or even eating out. “Cooking should be fun and relaxing,” says Moulton. “If you’re stressed about it, then you shouldn’t do it! Just enjoying the day is most important. Make it the day that you want.”