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Sugar Plum visions go through dancer’s head

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Ballet dancer Jacqueline Hodek dropped the names of a few top professional performers during a recent conversation before a class at Columbus’ Dancers Studio Inc. But her eyes lit up the most when she mentioned her favorite musical artist, the late Michael Jackson.

The King of Pop is among her favorite dancers, too.

“The first time I watched him (on video), I thought, ‘That is so amazing. How can he move like that?’” said the 17-year-old Columbus native, touching her hands to her heart in homage.

People might be saying a little of the same thing when they see Jacqueline perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Dancers Studio’s two performances of “The Nutcracker” on Saturday at Judson Erne Auditorium. The role is challenging enough that director Alma Wiley usually reserves it for a visiting professional or former professional dancer.

But Wiley sees Hodek as among the more talented performers she has worked with the past 20-plus years.

“She has progressed to the point that she needs more than I give her at the studio here,” Wiley said, adding that Hodek probably will begin training with professionals in Indianapolis in January.

“I’m actually very happy about that. I want her to be able to go as far as she can,” Wiley said.

No one knows for certain how far that could be.

But Hodek’s goal is to be part of the prestigious New York City Ballet, considered the, well, plum company by many in the United States’ dance community.

The Columbus North High School junior participated in what is known as dance intensive, a two-week, camp-style experience, in the summer with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, considered among the world’s elite troupes. She loved the classes. And she absorbed her teacher’s critiques quickly.

“With every single correction, I would make notes in a journal,” she said.

Besides weekday classes and “Nutcracker” rehearsals since September, Hodek also has been practicing her role in the family basement, dancing barefoot on the carpet.

Even three months ago, when the temperatures still hovered near 80, she felt Christmas would come very quickly.

She paused.

“I really love Christmas,” she said, clasping her hands together and touching them sweetly and humorously to her cheek.

Since she began dance at age 5 at the studio, Christmas and dance have been intertwined. She played a mouse in her first “Nutcracker” in 2002.

“I just remember being scared,” she said, laughing at herself. “The rats back then in the cast were very scary looking. And the Rat King character back then was very big and very scary.”

Not much scares her these days on the stage. Consider the fact that her “Nutcracker” professional partner is Tim June of Indianapolis’ Dance Kaleidoscope.

“He really focuses and helps a lot with corrections if you’re having trouble with something,” she said. “He’s absolutely an amazing partner.”

Apart from dance, Hodek plays a bit of piano, laughs over her first- and second-grade drum lessons and loves to draw.

And the arts run in the family. Her mother, Renney is a former dancer; brother, Ben, 24, has a fine arts degree; and sister, Madeline, is studying photography.

Hodek has little time for dance in popular media, such as the TV show “Breaking Pointe,” about members of Salt Lake City’s Ballet West.

“It’s reality TV,” she said. “You know they’re going to ruin it.”

In the future, her mother and father, Tom, want whatever is best for the daughter who danced through the house on her tiptoes as a preschooler.

“We just want all of our kids to be happy,” she said.

Dance definitely makes Hodek happy. Plus, it has created bond and friendships.

Twice during a chat in a hallway at the studio, young dancers stopped to wish her luck Saturday or offer a hug.

No wonder she will cry when her time with the local dance company ends.

“After all,” she said. “This has been my home.”

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