'Nutcracker on Ice' celebrates 20th year at Columbia rink

Five skaters in production heading to national competition

  • Show director Mia Choi (left) helps Allison Timlen with her costume during a rehearsal for the 20th annual "Nutcracker On Ice" at the Columbia Ice Rink.
Show director Mia Choi (left) helps Allison Timlen with her… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
November 27, 2010|By Janene Holzberg, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Twenty years ago, Pat Muth uncorked some of her trademark energy to launch a production of a classic holiday ice show as a way to give back to the community — and to raise enough money to pay off a mounting ice rink bill.

She had no way of knowing back then that her version of "The Nutcracker on Ice" would become a cornerstone of the Columbia Figure Skating Club, which she founded in 1975 at the Columbia Ice Rink in Oakland Mills.

Nor could the British native and 40-year Columbia resident have predicted that the club's four performances of the two-act ballet featuring the music of Tchaikovsky would be selling 1,600 tickets each December.

But that's not all. The club is hitting another milestone this season, with five skaters moving on to national competitions in coming weeks.

One of those trailblazers is Allison Timlen, a 15-year-old sophomore at Mount Hebron High School who has been skating for 11 years and has what it takes to go all the way, said Muth.

It seems the 180-member organization has more than come into its own.

A family experience

When Muth launched the club's first performance of "The Nutcracker" back in 1990, the show was a mere 30 minutes long because that's all the ice time the group could afford. Tickets were $3, the backdrop was concocted from black plastic and the chandelier in the party scene was crooked.

"But the line was out the door," said a still-incredulous Muth, who lives down the street from the ice rink in the same house she moved into in 1970 with her husband, Phil, and four children.

Today, Muth, who serves as the club's artistic director, reigns over a "Nutcracker" cast of 100 members and modifies components of the 50-minute show's music or scenery each year to keep the production fresh for skaters and audience members alike.

"It's a real family experience," said Timlen, who this year passed down the leading role of Clara to Tess Terpos, a 13-year-old eighth-grade student at Dunloggin Middle School who's been skating for seven years.

And Timlen should know. Her mother, Donna, is club president and serves as the on-ice show director, her 11-year-old sister Kelly also skates with the club, and the girls' father, Eddie, works backstage.

"The Timlens are so dedicated to the club," said Mia Choi, who is Donna Timlen's counterpart as off-ice show director. "The number of hours they devote to this organization as a family is incredible."

Choi puts in her share of hours, too. When it's showtime, she can be found orchestrating the chaos in the warming room, "most likely with a kid in one arm and another hanging on to my leg," she said jokingly about the younger performers who need help with costume changes and entering the ice on cue.

"Parents are usually laughing at me with so many kids on me," she said. "It's hectic, but it's a lot of fun."

Since Choi and her daughter Julia, 11, joined in 2004, the club's membership has doubled, she said, speculating that mothers of girls have especially been drawn in increasing numbers to the ballet-based movements of ice skating. Also, more Asian families have been inspired to join by the recent success of Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na, she said.

Also contributing to the family atmosphere are Muth's daughter, Martha Muth, and her granddaughter, Melissa Ivester, who both work as coaches. Denise Cahill and Bobbe Shire fill out the club's instructional roster.

"I couldn't have accomplished what I have without all of these wonderful people, students and parents," Muth said. "We are one big family, and we're all in this together."

Dedication pays off

Tess Terpos said she enjoys inviting her schoolteachers to a performance of the Nutcracker "as a way to help them understand why I'm always a little late" to school because of skating practice.

Since Timlen started high school last year, she has traded the grueling 4:30 a.m. practice schedule she adhered to for eight years in favor of skating at 1:30 p.m., leaving Mount Hebron in a work program just before last period every day to get in three hours on the ice.

"We ice skaters basically have no social life," said Timlen, who takes advanced-level courses and handles a heavy load of homework after skating practice. She puts in 14 hours a week on the ice, takes kickboxing and other fitness classes, and still manages to earn good grades and be in bed by 9:30 each night.

"But we wouldn't give it up for anything," chimed in Terpos, whose mother, Colleen, serves as the club's vice president.

The skaters' fierce dedication has paid off in a big way this fall, as the Columbia Figure Skating Club laid claim to a first: Five of their members will compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Association Championships in December and January.

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