David Lauderdale

Car mechanic in a tutu? No, but he’s been in ‘The Nutcracker’ on Hilton Head for 30 years

Car mechanic has played a role in Hilton Head’s ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet for 30 years

Local car mechanic Bob Minnicks has played multiple roles in the Hilton Head Dance Theatre and School's joint production of 'The Nutcracker' ballet over the last 30 years. Here are a few clips of him as Dr. Stahlbaum.
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Local car mechanic Bob Minnicks has played multiple roles in the Hilton Head Dance Theatre and School's joint production of 'The Nutcracker' ballet over the last 30 years. Here are a few clips of him as Dr. Stahlbaum.

By day, Bob Minnicks is a mechanic.

By night, at this magical time of year, he’s Dr. Stahlbaum.

He swirls across a stage, in a world so different from work that it must seem like a dream, and in fact is a dream filled with pink tutus, snow queens, little girls as petite snowflakes and rowdy boys dancing with golden swords.

This is his 30th year in the Hilton Head Dance Theatre production of “The Nutcracker.”

Friday night, the show will open for the 34th time since artistic directors John and Karena Brock-Carlyle founded the Hilton Head Dance School. Karena had been principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre, and John had studied and performed in New York City.

Nobody could have dreamed that it would play out this way.

Bob Minnicks will leave his computerized bay at the Hilton Head BMW service center to join a cast that at one time, many years ago, included his own little girl, Autumn.

He will be joined on the Seahawk Cultural Center stage by the children of children he danced with years ago.

But it’s coming to an end for Bob. The six shows this weekend and next weekend will be his last. Over all the years, he’s missed only one performance.

“I think it’s time,” he said.

But surely, come next November, he’ll look into his 10-by-6-foot chest with $100,000 worth of tools that make high-performance cars roar, and his mind will drift over the candy canes to the Land of Sweets, the cloud angels and the Dew Drop Fairy.

Fabric of Hilton Head

Bob Minnicks is 67.

And he’s still an extreme cycler, or at least that’s what I call someone who rides a 17-pound carbon fiber Trek bicycle 150 to 200 miles a week to train for races of 60 to 100 miles with a team of much younger people known as Hilton Head Velo.

He came to Hilton Head as a machinist schooled as a journeyman in Lansing, Michigan. He came to repair boats at Skull Creek Marina, and later worked at Tom Gould’s shop, and then the Kigre company and for the past 16 years the BMW dealership, where he is a master technician. Five times, he’s won BMW’s Profiles in Achievement award, something that only 27 people nationwide earn each year.

But then there’s this other world.

“He first appeared as the Mouse King, made an appearance on 4-foot stilts as Mother Ginger, and for 25-plus years has played the part of Dr. Stahlbaum,” said Lori Finger, who chairs the Hilton Head Dance Theatre board. Her daughter, Katie Girardi, grew up dancing in the company, and now Katie is back as ballet mistress and her little girl, named Karena, is in “The Nutcracker.”

Such is the sweep of life that Minnicks has seen in the “controlled chaos” backstage, where girls help other girls who are slightly younger, from the Sugar Plum Fairy down to the “baby mice.”

“Over the years,” Finger said, “Bob has had a series of wives — Paula Hart, Mary Coleman, Kelly Ogden, Karena Brock-Carlyle, Justine Hale Milosev, Jenny Zmarzly, Mckenzie Carter and my daughter, Katie Girardi.

“He has played father to countless Maries and Fritz’. His career has spanned performances at the Community Playhouse on Dunnagan’s Alley, 15 years at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, and now six years at the Seahawk Cultural Center.”

The local production has touched thousands of lives.

Tchaikovsky on wheels

Ads in the “Nutcracker” program help tell the dancers’ story.

Parents and grandparents use these words to describe their dancer: commitment, passion, dedication, hard work, determination.

“The girls have gotten stronger,” Minnicks says. “The easier they make it look, the better they are at it.”

It’s not easy for him anymore. He’s cut back on his bicycling, in part because his friend Dr. Jeff Garske was killed riding a bicycle on a 10-foot shoulder of the Cross Island Parkway, in daylight, from behind, by a drunken driver. And, in part, it’s because now he can do a full day’s work or a full evening’s bike training, but not both.

He stuck with “The Nutcracker” because he likes to be around kids. “You can tell,” he said, “because I had six of my own.”

He likes what it teaches the kids.

“Everyone is helping each other, and I think that’s extremely important.

“It’s a level of discipline you don’t get in school. I think you get it in some sports.

“It just gives them a poise about themselves later in life.

“You’ve got to trust your partner — that’s important.

“It keeps them out of trouble.”

Before his kaleidoscope goes dark on all the pageantry and human drama, he’s seen scampering on tiptoe to the sound of Tchaikovsky, Minnicks laughs. There’s one more thing he’s learned over the years.

“Nobody’s here to watch me,” he said.

IF YOU GO

“The Nutcracker” presented by the Hilton Head Dance Theatre

Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17: 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 11 and 18: 2:30 p.m.

Seahawk Cultural Center at Hilton Head Island High School, 70 Wilborn Road.

Tickets and information: HiltonHeadDance.com; 843-842-3262

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