Karla Feghali, 17, has been coming to the Margaret Haddad School of Ballet in Great Falls since she was 2 years old. She has been in all 13 of its annual productions of "The Nutcracker," and since she is graduating from high school in the spring, this year's performance will be her last.
"It's like a family, it really is," said Feghali, a senior at McLean High School .
Feghali is not alone. Her friend Marianne Ho, 17, has also been coming to the school for ballet lessons since the age of 2.
"I'm going to miss Mrs. Haddad, and it's been so much fun to be part of a big production," said Ho.
Margaret Haddad opened her school in the Great Falls Village Centre in 1987, but is in her 43rd year of teaching dance. She has taught in four countries — England, Lebanon, Kenya and the United States .
"Watching them all grow up and mature into young ladies is so gratifying," said Haddad of her students.
On Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 26 and 27, the Haddad Youth Ballet will perform its 14th annual production of the famed holiday classic "The Nutcracker" at The Madeira School in McLean.
"It gets harder every year," said Haddad with a laugh. "You'd think it would be easier but there are different challenges to face."
This year's performance features 78 children, five fathers, four of Haddad's grandchildren and 750 pieces of costume.
"It's a huge production and it gets bigger every year," said Haddad.
Although most of the dancers are from the McLean and Great Falls area, there will also be some from Reston, Herndon and Maryland. Because the school must raise $30,000 to pay for the show, its students have had to participate in a variety of fund-raising efforts.
"We had a pizza fund-raiser which is a big form of revenue, the girls did a car wash last week, we have ads for our program, people make donations and I make silk flower arrangements that I sell," said Haddad.
Hope Reynolds has been helping out at the school for the last 10 years and is the costume mistress of this year's "Nutcracker" production.
"The hardest part is getting them to fit," said Reynolds. "Almost everybody has an alteration and every year we have to re-do the costumes."
Reynolds' daughter Kristine, 14, plays Clara in this year's show.
"It's just really fun," said Kristine, a freshman at Langley High School. "I've been doing it since I was 4 so it's a tradition."
She added that playing the star role is a little nerve-wracking.
"It's really exciting but I get really nervous just before the first show. After that I'm okay," she said.
In addition to being a student at the Haddad school, Reynolds also takes part in its teacher-training program.
"I come in two times a week and I get to teach. I just try to participate as much as possible," she said.