photo by Lindsay Thomas

The holidays are a busy time for Leah Merchant. As a soloist with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, she’ll dance in about 40 productions of The Nutcracker with only a few Mondays off to rest. “Thank goodness for online shopping,” she said. Merchant, a southern gal with roots in Alabama, is one of about a dozen dancers who play the beloved Sugar Plum Fairy — ruler of the Land of Sweets — in this year’s show. Here’s her list of favorite things.



Lately, Tom Petty, since he’s been on my mind.


TV show

The Man in the High Castle



Wonder Woman was the last movie I saw, and I loved it!

The List: Leah Merchant

Courtesy Moviestilldb.


For dinner

No Anchor in Belltown


Place to be inspired

Olympic Sculpture Park Views of the mountains, the ocean, and artwork!

The List: Leah Merchant

Courtesy Angela Sterling


To travel

The Oregon Coast. I grew up near water and never want to be far away from it.



I love hiking and being in nature, but in the soggy winter months, I like to knit.



The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur


Favorite quote

I have stack of notebooks of quotes from books I’ve read over the years, and Maya Angelou has her own volume! A favorite is, “Whether my days are stormy or sunny or if my nights are glorious or lonely, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If pessimism insists on occupying my thoughts, I remember there is always tomorrow. Today, I am blessed.”

The List: Leah Merchant

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons


What drew you to ballet?

I started when I was 3, and according to recently unearthed first-grade notebooks, I’d set my mind to being a ballerina back then; I guess I just followed through!


When was the first time you saw The Nutcracker?

Funny enough, I think the first Nutcracker I saw was a televised broadcast of PNB’s Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak version, but I guess the first time I saw the show live was the one I danced in at North Carolina School of the Arts by Robert Lindgren. And of course, I wanted to be the Sugar Plum Fairy!

The List: Leah Merchant

Courtesy Angela Sterling


How do you prepare for a performance?

I eat a lot of protein and carbs the meal before a performance, and I always have a banana pretty close to when I’ll be dancing. I don’t have any superstitions, but once I figure out my prep routine for a certain production, I’m pretty ritualistic about it for those shows.


Does ballet feel as fluid as it looks?

We put a lot of work into making it look effortless, and the irony is not lost on our muscles! Despite the physical effort, I think the performing part of it is what feels light — the adrenaline high, I guess!


What do you miss the most about the South?

Hands-down: swimming in water that isn’t frigid or glacial!