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‘Like Toy Soldiers’: Central Mississippi Dance Adds Urban Twist to ‘Nutcracker’

Two weeks before opening day, children ages 4 through 6 march inside Central Mississippi Dance in Brandon, Miss., carrying golden horns and white replica rifles while Eminem’s “Like Toy Soldiers” blasts through the studio’s speakers.

Afterward, the music transitions into an upbeat, hip-hop instrumental, and three dancers playing mice follow along to dance instructor Tena Long’s movements as she illustrates how to perform the Milly Rock, a two-step dance where the performer swoops their arms left and right that originated in New York City.

One young girl, who is playing a soldier, taps away at the floor, the sounds her shoes make enamoring her as she waits for further direction.

Dance instructor Tena Long teaches young children hip-hop moves during dance rehearsals for Central Mississippi Dance’s “The Nutcracker” showcase, which opens on Dec. 3, 2022.  Photo courtesy Central Mississippi Dance

This year, Central Mississippi Dance adds an urban twist to a classic show by infusing various styles of dance—ballet, tap, hip-hop, jazz, contemporary and acrobatic—into a production of “The Nutcracker,” a recital that has been months in the making.

“We really just wanted to incorporate and bring a different unique style onto ‘The Nutcracker’ because when people hear the ‘Nutcracker’ story, all they hear is point and classical ballet or classical music,” Central Mississippi Dance Instructor Faith Grier says. “Ms. Reagan really wanted to bring out a different side of it because she was like, ‘There are so many genres of dance that people just don’t incorporate sometimes.’”

Grier, who herself has been dancing since she was 3 years old, now teaches dance to children between the ages of 2 and 6. She says she loves watching the kids’ faces light up when they learn a new step.

“I always believed dance is the perfect way to express anything you’re going through at any point in time in life,” Grier says. “And with preschool, they’re jumping for joy. They’re excited to learn. And then they rush home and they’re like, ‘Mom, look what I did. Look at what I learned today in dance!’”

Central Mississippi Dance Director Reagan Cooper and

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