Michael Wolfe: Westport’s Budding Baryshnikov

If it’s Christmas season, it must be “Nutcracker” time.

As regularly as its clock strikes 12, Westport’s Academy of Dance ballet starring toy soldiers, mice and a Sugar Plum Fairy pirouettes onto the Staples High School stage this weekend (December 5 and 6).

Ah yes: Westport's Academy of Dance performs "The Nutcracker." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Ah yes: Westport’s Academy of Dance performs “The Nutcracker.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Michael Wolfe’s daughter has performed in it for years. So have countless local kids.

But Michael has too. That’s not something many longtime Westport dads can say.

Or if they did, would say publicly.

But Michael — a former publisher of magazines like Men’s Journal and GQ, now CMO of a small financial firm — is proud of his “Nutcracker” life.

In fact, he recently wrote about it in his blog, “Too Lazy To Write a Book.”

It’s a long story. Then again, so is “The Nutcracker.” (Particularly the 1,728,596th time.)

Nutcracker poster

Here’s the Spark Notes version:

Four years ago, the guy playing Clara’s father had a conflict. Michael’s wife Karen told him: “You’re doing this.”

Michael says, “I am not a graceful human being. I am lucky that I stay upright for long periods of time. I bump my knees into walls, chairs and various kitchen appliances at least 3 times a day.”

But his daughter Rachel loves ballet. She dances 6 or 7 days a week, with time off only to “eat, study, and threaten to kill her brother while he’s sleeping.”

Michael’s involvement with her passion had consisted only of dropping his daughter off at rehearsals, and watching her performances (which “take place in the dark and practically demand a good nap”).

So Michael signed up. He passed some kind of audition. As easy as that, he was cast as Clara’s father.

Michael Wolfe's role in "The Nutcracker" was not as demanding as these.

Michael Wolfe’s role in “The Nutcracker” was not as demanding as these kids’.

Rehearsals were tough. Michael describes himself as “a drunk Muppet in the midst of a seizure.” Fortunately, the teachers focused on the girls, and did not worry about “the hapless and possibly spastic adult.”

At the dress rehearsal, he was fitted with a costume at least one size too big. While he knew he was a “glorified extra” — not someone dancing “Baryshnikov’s Greatest Hits” — he still felt out of place. “Joe Cocker dancing with a team of Beyonces,” he writes.

The day of the show, Michael met the professional ballet dancers playing the larger male roles. Changing into his oversized costume in front of those “impossibly muscular physical specimens of human perfection” hardly improved his confidence.

Nor did watching them pull on their leotards, whose only purpose is to make their genitals “appear to be the size of basketballs, and on the verge of bursting through their thin fabric at any minute.”

But his daughter — “ethereal in her wispy snowflake dress, her face in angelic makeup and hair tied tightly in an elegant bun” — thought he looked “awesome.” Then she sat and put makeup on his 19th-century aristocratic face.

Somehow, the shows went off perfectly. He hit his marks, bowed at the right times, and danced decently enough, considering his age and “suspect abilities.”

Michael Wolfe: "Nutcracker" star.

Michael Wolfe: “Nutcracker” star.

For the next 3 years, he reprised his role. And he’ll do it again, today and tomorrow.

But there’s no rush to see him, he says. (Anyway, only a few tickets are available at the door.)

He plans to play his part for a few more years — until Rachel graduates.

Besides, he says, “my daughter’s got this amazing new blush she can’t wait to try out on me.”

(Intrigued by Michael’s story? Click here to read it all. For more information on this weekend’s performances of “The Nutcracker,” click on Westport’s Academy of Dance website.)

Michael Wolfe and his daughter Rachel, backstage last year.

Michael Wolfe and his daughter Rachel, backstage last year.


7 responses to “Michael Wolfe: Westport’s Budding Baryshnikov

  1. Ingi A. Soliman, Ph.D.

    What a fantastic article!

    Thank you Dan…you are exceptional! So glad you found the spin!

    Hope you have a great weekend!


    Ingi A. Soliman, Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist

    Sent from iPhone


  2. marcy sansolo

    Michael is extremely talented on and off stage. Great guy, terrific friend, top- notch dad, not afraid to wear tights, & extremely funny. Break a leg and have fun.

  3. Terrie Langer

    Great story! Nothing like the love of a dad and a daughter!

  4. Bart Shuldman

    To a wonderful guy–Bravo! Bravo Michael!! But where is the picture with the tights?

  5. Barbara Wiederecht

    As a retired “stage mom” of a former Nutcracker dancer, this has always been a beautiful and special production! Reading this article brought a big smile to my face. Hats off to Mr. Wolfe and enjoy the moments with your daughter.

  6. Thanks for the shout-out Dan!! The shows this weekend were spectacular, the least bit notable for the fact that I managed not to drop or step on any of the dancers again (although I came close). The real stars, as always, were the incredible girls and young women on stage, all of whom put incredible effort into their performances. My hats off to Nancy Zindell and her amazing team of of instructors (Tollie, Catalina, David, et al), that give these kids the confidence and inspiration to brave the stage and perform with such grace and athleticism. Oh, and a huge nod to the crew of volunteers who give their time…you can’t imagine the scene backstage (how the chaos actually comes together so seamlessly is beyond me). Bravo!!

  7. There are many of us who love these stories…thanks for sharing!!