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Local opens in Atlanta Ballet's 'The Nutcracker'
Matthew Stahnke, right, and his younger sister Julianna Stahnke - photo by Submitted Photo

Matthew Stahnke isn’t your typical dance protégé - the kind that began honing his craft from an early age. The 18-year-old, who will be in "The Nutcracker" with The Atlanta Ballet this weekend, began his dance career because he was grounded for hacking into the family computer four years ago.

At the time, Stahnke’s mother had a password so the computer couldn’t be accessed without her permission. He and his brother broke into the desktop late one night and stayed up all night playing games. They were discovered the next morning passed out at the scene of the crime. Part of his sentence included sitting at the Conyers School of Ballet while his sister took class. "I wasn’t allowed to talk or move. My brother and I decided to take classes so we wouldn’t just have to sit there, and we both kind of fell in love with dancing," he said.

"He started dancing because he liked all the pretty girls," said Judy Mauran, the ballet school’s director, clarifying that story.

After dancing as the prince in The Conyers School of Ballet’s spring program, "A Princess and the Pea," Stahnke supplemented a partial scholarship to a summer intensive program at The Atlanta Ballet by helping tile his uncle’s bathroom. His work paid off earning the home-schooled student a full scholarship this fall.

Now, he’s commuting and dancing five hours a day in the AB’s pre-professional program. "I was a little overwhelmed this summer because everyone was so good and had been dancing for so long. I felt they were out of my league. I worked hard every day to catch up," he said. Mauran attests to his work ethic. "Talent’s just a small part of it. He has worked very, very hard and he’s smart," she said. "He’s a great kid."

During his downtime, Stahnke is still a gamer and, like many aspiring artists, moonlights in the food-service industry. You can find him on Sundays manning the drive-thru at Sonny’s BBQ.

Stahnke’s role in the classic holiday ballet is a toy soldier from the infantry. "I get to fight rats," he said enthusiastically. His dream role is Herr Drosselmeier, creator of the Nutcracker soldier and the godfather who casts the magical dream for Marie, the ballet’s heroine. His goal is to enter The Atlanta Ballet’s full fellowship program next year and afterwards earn a spot as a member of the company.

Days before opening on the stage of the Fox Theatre, Stahnke said he feels prepared. Armed with preparation and his performance motto, "Dance like nobody’s watching even when the whole world is staring," he dances into battle this weekend.


"The Nutcracker," accompanied by a live orchestra, runs through December 26 at the Fox Theatre. Go to for schedules and tickets.