Philip Strom was 7 when ballet became a part of his life.
Today, at age 13, he's still dancing with the Mid-Columbia Ballet and will dance his first lead role as the prince in the annual Nutcracker Suite ballet.
What makes this role even more exciting, he said, is the ballet company will not only perform its usual fare for Tri-City audiences Dec. 9-11, it also will make its debut with the Walla Walla Symphony's annual Nutcracker production Dec. 17.
"It's very exciting to dance a key role, and I was a bit in shock when I first found out I would dance as the prince," Phil said. "It's also the first time we'll be dancing this ballet with a live symphony."
The Mid-Columbia Ballet was invited by the Walla Walla Symphony to be the featured dance group for Nutcracker.
"It is not unusual for Nutcracker to be produced by symphonies that hire a ballet company to perform," said Joel Rogo, co-owner of the company. "Walla Walla, in the past, has used the Eugene Ballet. This year, they asked us, and we are very excited about it. The Mid-Columbia Ballet has not performed Nutcracker with live music for 25 years."
The upcoming Nutcracker performances in Richland and Walla Walla also will be Phil's swan song with the Mid-Columbia Ballet.
He is moving with his parents, Dan and Carol Strom, to Slavutych in the Ukraine on Dec. 19. His dad, a Battelle radiation protection design specialist, is on an assignment there for 18 months as the lead specialist with the Chernobyl Shelter Implementation Unit.
But Phil doesn't plan on giving up dance just because he's moving half a world away. He plans to continue dancing while in Europe, though in what capacity he isn't quite sure yet.
"Dance frees you, in a way that's kind of hard to describe," he said. "But for me, movement is very satisfying."
He feels blessed his parents exposed him to the arts at a young age.
"Whenever my family went on vacation, we would always visit museums and attend theater productions," he said. "And I know boys my age usually don't see the arts as important, but I do and I feel lucky for that."
The art of the dance is the second most physically grueling activity there is, next to football, he added. "It takes a lot of strength and conditioning to dance, and I've had excellent training from Debra Rogo (artistic director for MCB)."
Phil is a student at Three Rivers Homelink in the Richland School District. He does some online curriculum at home and also takes various on-site classes and workshops when time allows, his mother explained
"When we move to the Ukraine, he'll continue with the same online curriculum we have been doing here for three years, and will join Ukrainian students in the afternoon at a language academy for Russian," Carol Strom said. "The skills and development that occur through the study of dance cross over to so many other areas including academics."
The Tri-City performances of The Nutcracker will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 9-10 with 2 p.m. matinees Dec. 10-11 in the auditorium at Richland High School. Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 for students and seniors and $12 for ages 12 and younger. Tickets are available at the Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet and Music in Richland, at www.midcolumbiaballet.org or call 946-5417.
The company's Walla Walla performance is at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 in Cordiner Hall on the Whitman College campus. Tickets are from $15 to $25 for adults and from $7 to $15 for ages 18 and younger. Tickets are available at www.wwsymphony.org or call 509-529-8020.
*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; email@example.com