Dec. 4, 1997
Vol. 17, No. 6

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    Delicate balance

    For this College student, academics, dance share spotlight

    By Jennifer Vanasco
    News Office

    When second-year College student Erin Derstine was growing up in Chicago's western suburbs, she'd watch the American Ballet Theater production of The Nutcracker on television every year. "The whole thing was so good," she said, eyes shining. "The music, Mikhail Barishnikov's dancing . . . "

    That production, along with her trips to see The Nutcracker in Chicago, inspired the girl who had been dancing since age 5 to pursue her passion. Her perseverance has paid off. For the third consecutive year, Derstine will be in the corps of the Ruth Page production of The Nutcracker at Arie Crown Theater from Dec. 12 through 27.

    "I'm one of the marzipans in the second act," Derstine said. "We wear yellow, orange and green tutus with little hats. I love the role -- it's coquettish, flirty, dainty." Derstine is one of four "corps girls" dancing behind the soloist in 'Dance of the Flutes,' and she also dances in the opening of Act 2, the finale and, in a different role, in the snow scene. Derstine has been dancing -- ballet, jazz and modern -- for 16 of her 21 years. She was an active child, taking dancing, gymnastics and flute lessons, as well as playing soccer and volleyball. One by one, however, she dropped all of her activities except dance. "It was very gradual," she said. "I would be told, well, we need you this many more hours for rehearsal, and so I'd drop one other thing on my schedule."

    Now that she's in college, Derstine has struggled to balance her classwork with the grueling hours of rehearsal -- seven hours a day, five days a week, since Nov. 18. She squeezes in French, calculus and statistics homework between scenes.

    "I go to school, go to dance, do my homework. My professors have been very understanding and my friends have been very supportive," she said.

    Derstine said she tries to keep a firm line between dance and school. "It's frustrating not to be able to do either academics or dance full force. But since I want to do both, I have to make compromises."

    Before coming to the University, she spent the year after high school as a performing apprentice for the River North Dance Company, and after her first year in the College, she took off another year to dance with Ballet Theatre of Chicago, the Cerqua-Rivera Art Experience and in The Nutcracker. She still dances with CRAE, and recently gave a jazz performance with the troupe in Dance Chicago '97, a celebration of dance in the city, at the Athenaeum Theatre.

    Derstine plans to become a professional dancer after graduation, at least for a few years. "But I have a strong academic side, and I don't want to neglect that," she said. "Maybe, after dancing for a while, I'll go into an arts-related field. Or maybe I'll do something completely different."

    For the moment, she is thrilled to be dancing in her favorite ballet.

    "I still have a program from one of the times I went to see The Nutcracker," she said, "and when I looked through it recently, I noticed that three of my former teachers are in it. It's cool that I've reached the same level that they were at when they were my age. It's a measure of my success."