Ballet Bellingham leader brings 'Nutcracker' to Mount Baker Theatre

Jessica Crook, 33, was born and raised in Bellingham. She went to Sehome High School and Bellingham Technical College.

She says she began ballet at Bellingham's Nancy Whyte School of Ballet when she was 3 and "fell in love with it immediately."

She's now head of Ballet Bellingham, which performs the classic Christmas ballet "The Nutcracker" at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6-7, at Mount Baker Theatre. For tickets, call 360-734-6080 or go to mountbakertheatre.com.

Question: So you started taking lessons in ballet when you were practically a toddler. Then what?

Answer: When I was 10 I began assisting with kids' classes and fell in love with ballet even more!

At 12, I joined the Mount Baker Ballet under the direction of Nancy Whyte. During my time with the Mount Baker Ballet, I had the opportunity to not only dance many classical roles but also many modern pieces as well. Also, I had the chance to travel across the western United States and study and perform in Idaho, California, Utah, and all over Washington state. When I was 16, I began teaching classes on my own at Nancy's school. I continued teaching for her until she moved to New York in 2009.

Q: What's the story of Ballet Bellingham?

A: When Nancy decided to move to New York, I had the opportunity to take over her space and open as my own school. At the time, I didn't feel like I had the time necessary to open a new studio. A few months after she left, I realized that owning my own school was what I was always meant to do.

We begin classes at age 3. I have students that range in age from 3 to adult. No previous experience is required to begin classes. We accept and support students of all ages and abilities and will work to find a suitable class for all students.

Q: What's your teaching philosophy about ballet?

A: It is very important to me that Ballet Bellingham is a fun, creative and supportive environment where all students, whether they hope to become professional dancers or not, feel comfortable learning ballet. While teaching correct ballet technique, I feel it is just as important to teach the why as it is to teach the how.

I do not believe in teaching "tricks" and feel that solid classical technique is very important. I keep our classes small, with a maximum of 10 students per class, so that each student is able to have personalized attention in every class.

Q: What can people expect at your performance of "The Nutcracker?"

A: I am so excited to be staging my first "Nutcracker."

I had the chance to perform the "Nutcracker" in Bellingham for almost 20 years, and I am thrilled to now be staging my own version.

We have a small cast, but they have thrown all their energy into this production. Even our little mice, who range from 3 to 5 years old, are working hard to make this a great show.

It was very important to me that this be a very community-minded event. We held open auditions, so we not only have Ballet Bellingham students in the cast but also other local kids who wanted the opportunity to perform on the amazing Mount Baker Theatre stage.

As a native resident of Bellingham, it is extremely important to me to give back to the community that has raised me. We have donated more than 200 tickets to our two nights of "Nutcracker" to local children's charities so that kids who might not otherwise have the chance to see a ballet will now have the opportunity.

Q: What do you enjoy about living in Bellingham?

A: Both my husband and I grew up here, so for our children to have the opportunity to go to the same schools that we went to is amazing for us. They are actually the third generation of our families to attend their current schools. I love the incredible art and music scene here in town. I find so much inspiration within our own community.

My husband and I discussed moving elsewhere to raise our family, but neither of us could imagine living anywhere else!

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.