SoCal dance studio brings 'Nutcracker' to the screen for drive-in event

A dance director is changing things up due to COVID-19. With help from her students, she's bringing the "Nutcracker" to the screen for a drive-in movie event.
WOODLAND HILLS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A woman behind a Southern California dance center would not let her students be disappointed this holiday season. Because of the pandemic, they can't do their annual performance of "The Nutcracker" on stage.

So why not make it a movie?

Toni Ricci is the owner and director of the Elite Dance and Performing Arts Center in Woodland Hills. It's now operating outdoors due to COVID-19. Ricci is making it work. The center, and the kids, are her babies.

"I don't have kids of my own. And this - I've struggled so hard in my life to get to where I am and they make it so worth it to me," said Ricci.

"She's basically like my crazy aunt. I grew up with her," said dancer Shealyn Brannon. "And aside from just like teaching me jazz and stuff, she's mentored me in life."

Shealyn is also in this "Nutcracker" cast. Under normal conditions, they'd be doing this live on stage. But with the pandemic, their director opted for a soundstage instead to make their own movie.

"I'm a risk taker and I'm a fighter," said Ricci.

The risk? Selling out the Canoga Drive-In Pop-up Cinema in Woodland Hills for a one-night only drive-in experience on Sunday Dec.13.

"Selling tickets to the event, actually, is what we're hoping will cover the rest of the cost which is why we're encouraging everybody to please go," said Ricci. "Otherwise, it's an out-of-pocket expense on my credit card, to be really honest."

Ricci tapped Addyson Smith to be the mask-wearing lead in this homegrown production.

"She's taught me everything about dance - not just dance but definitely the type of a person that I want to be," said Smith. "And I look up to her so much every day. And I just - I want to be like her. She's so strong and confident and I'm so proud of her."

"I want them to be fighters. And I want them to be leaders," said Ricci. "I want them to be strong women and that's the example that I try to set."
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