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Aspiring princesses (of all ages) kick off the holidays at Sugar Plum Fairy Tea Party

Jana Acciacca, far left, as "Nana Jana," reads a fairy tale during the 5th annual Sugar Plum Fairy Tea Party.
Jana Acciacca, far left, as “Nana Jana,” reads a fairy tale to dozens of girls during the fifth annual Sugar Plum Fairy Tea Party, a fundraiser to promote the upcoming youth production of “The Nutcracker.”
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Huntington Beach’s Senior Center at Central Park transformed Saturday into the Land of Sweets as Ballet Etudes, a nonprofit that organizes dance productions for local youth, hosted a fifth annual Sugar Plum Fairy Tea Party.

About 200 aspiring princesses, mothers, grandmothers and aunts enjoyed an afternoon ripped straight from the pages of the 1816 fairy tale turned holiday ballet classic “The Nutcracker” during the event, hosted by the nonprofit Ballet Etudes.

In addition to striking poses with a full cast of characters and watching the Sugar Plum Fairy pirouette, children enjoyed face painting, games and story time courtesy of “Nana Jana” (dance instructor Jana Acciacca) who reads from the storybook each year.

Jana Acciacca, center, as "Nana Jana," reads a fairy tale as she is accompanied by "The Nutcracker" characters on stage.
Jana Acciacca, center, as “Nana Jana,” reads a fairy tale as she is accompanied by “The Nutcracker” characters on stage.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Tables were resplendently decked out in themes — peppermint, snowflakes, and sugar plums — not only to accommodate the signature refreshments but as part of a decorating contest.

“Some of the moms sign up to host and decorate a table,” explained Ballet Etudes Executive Director Kimberly McEachern. “They get very interested in the competition and decorate the tables very elaboratively — it’s very festive.”

The event is a kickoff of the popular winter production of “The Nutcracker,” one of three major productions performed entirely by youth ages 5 to 19 and organized by Ballet Etudes.

It is also a fundraiser for the organization, which functions as nonprofit youth ballet company under the Huntington Academy of Dance and, as such, provides free dance lessons and productions for area Title 1 schools throughout the year.

The character known as Clara performs during  Sugar Plum Fairy Tea Party.
The character known as Clara performs during the Sugar Plum Fairy Tea Party.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

McEachern said many of the children who participate in the school programs are invited to the annual “Nutcracker” performance for free, so they can share in the joy and the magic of dance.

“We love to expose children to the arts to build their own creativity, to develop future patrons and to enrich their lives,” she added.

Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, Ballet Etudes often sees students go on to participate in university dance programs, trainings and professional dance schools. McEachern said the organization’s founders envisioned Ballet Etudes as a way to raise funds so productions could be enjoyed by a wider audience.

“We receive grants every year so we can continue to do this work,” she said.

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