Debby Erickson knows her way around The Nutcracker. She has been involved with its production for over three decades. She started as a costumer and still remembers raising her hand at a parent meeting and volunteering to alter the soldier costumes.
“Little did I now then what that small gesture would lead to,” she says.
Since then, she has held various executive roles and serves as a vice president on Lincoln Midwest Ballet Company’s board of directors. She is also the project coordinator of Backstage at the Ballet, an artist-in-residence program that gives elementary students an opportunity to experience ballet in a fun learning environment.
Both of Debby’s daughters have performed in the ballet. Betsy Andersen holds the record for most appearances by anyone in the Lincoln show for her 20-plus years of Nutcracker performances. She is currently on staff as a rehearsal assistant. Katie Anderson (yes, one daughter married an Andersen and the other is an Anderson) also danced in The Nutcracker for many years and served LMBC as a rehearsal assistant.
This year, Debby has three granddaughters in the cast: 9-year-old Ellie Anderson is dancing the role of Little Mouse, her cousin Amy Andersen is making her debut as an Angel, and Amy’s older sister Leah is performing in the lead role of Clara. Grandma couldn’t be prouder.
“What’s wonderful about this year is that all three girls got their ‘dream role,’” Debby says. "When asked how it feels to be Clara this year, Leah said, 'It’s every little girl’s dream to be Clara, and once you get there, it’s a dream come true!'”
Normally, Debby is backstage making sure everything is running smoothly. But for the first time ever, she bought tickets to all three shows so that she can watch her granddaughters perform.
It’s the ninth performance for Leah, a 16-year-old junior at Lincoln East High School, who is proud to follow in her mom’s footsteps on the Lied stage. The Nutcracker has been a part of her family’s tradition for 30 years. She is excited to share the stage with her sister, Amy, and cousin, Ellie.
“I’ve had such a great experience dancing in the Nutcracker every year, and I hope that Amy and Ellie stick with it so they can experience all of it as well,” says Leah.
Since she was 12, Leah has spent summers traveling to prestigious ballet intensives across the country.
“When I meet dancers from other places and we compare our Nutcrackers, I see how unique ours is," she says. "No one else performs with a live orchestra and professional guest artists on an amazing stage!”
Part of the credit for the quality of LMBC’s production goes to Debby Erickson. “She’s always been an integral part of LMBC’s success,” says daughter Betsy. “It is an enormous task coordinating all of the details, and she is so well organized.”
Betsy and Katie grew up with a mom who juggled a full-time job teaching at Rousseau Elementary School and the time-consuming task of helping produce The Nutcracker. As a young girl, Betsy recalls her mom helping to cut out a Harlequin costume on the floor backstage at Pershing Auditorium, and she remembers “walking into their basement and feeling like I had stepped into a fairy land when I looked up at the ballet costumes hanging from the ceiling.”
Artistic Director Shari True doesn’t know how she would have made it all these years without Debby Erickson by her side. “This year, she has been chosen to receive the Lyle Johnson Award, which recognizes individuals for their outstanding support of the ballet company. I can’t think of anyone more deserving,” True says.