For me, as a ballet dancer, one thing above all signals that the holidays are here: not Black Friday, not the return of the red cups at Starbucks (but check out my previous blog about the pumpkin spice effect), not decorations or window displays, or even ugly sweaters, but rather the arrival of Nutcracker season.
But what business does The Nutcracker have on an economics blog? After all, The Nutcracker is a story ballet based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and set to Tchaikovsky’s score. The ballet is a holiday tradition performed by ballet companies large and small around the United States.
And this is where the economics comes in. Ballet companies (and, increasingly, a wider range of dance companies as well) supply The Nutcracker productions. Audience members create demand through ticket purchases for these generally well-received productions. In fact, dance companies typically take in enough revenue from The Nutcracker to sustain them for the rest of the year, when smaller productions or more experimental works are presented.
But it is not just ticket sales that contribute to The Nutcracker’s economic impact for dance companies and the community. Numerous events, such as Nutcracker teas, are also popular and well-attended. Nutcracker-themed gift shops are also common fundraisers for companies. And as this Washington Post article shows, Nutcracker-related partnerships between the Washington Ballet and DC businesses bring in approximately $200,000 for the company, excluding ticket sales.
However, not all of the economics is strictly related to company operations. The littlest cast members—the party girls and baby mice—can have a big impact as well. Friends and family often attend multiple shows to see the youngest dancers perform. When these outings are combined with dinner out, flowers for the budding ballerina, parking at the theater, et cetera, a significant amount of dollars is injected into the local economy.
Let’s not forget about the older dancers.
Of course, professional dancers receive paychecks for their work in The Nutcracker. But these dancers have a more interesting way of impacting the economy. One of the most coveted rites of passage in the ballet world is the pointe shoe, the torturously beautiful specialized satin and paste slippers that allow ballerinas (and in rare cases, danseurs) to ethereally rise up on their toes. Professionals and advanced students have to purchase these shoes (or have them purchased for them, depending on the company arrangement). And pointe shoes are expensive (not to mention accessories, like ribbons, elastics, toe pads, lamb’s wool, or Band-Aids). A single pair can cost between $50 and $120 depending on the brand, and professionals can go through multiple pairs in a single show. Multiply this by the number of dancers en pointe in the cast, and that’s a lot of shoes…and a lot of money. In fact, the New York City Ballet has an annual shoe budget of $650,000.
The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition whose influence transcends the boundaries of the stage. And much like the Sugar Plum Fairy’s magical dance, its economic impact, particularly to local economies, is reason for applause as well.