Weeks of practice in a Holly Springs studio may translate to only two minutes of air time at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
But for 48 teenage girls, the trip to New York means so much more than just a few minutes in the spotlight.
On Thanksgiving Day, the Holly Springs School of Dance will represent not only their town, but North Carolina, as the only dance school from the state participating in this year’s parade.
Marilyn Chappell, 47, owner and artistic director of Holly Springs School of Dance, has taken a group of girls, ages 14 to 18, from her studio to participate in the parade five times, once every three years.
“This is something now that, like, our little kids know that it is coming,” Chappell said. “They are excited about it, and they can’t wait to be a Macy’s girl, so it’s really a tradition here within our program.”
Only three girls this year are repeat performers: Brigitte Kelly, 17; Emma Kauffman, 17; and Chappell’s daughter, Ellie, 18, a senior at Enloe High School. Kelly and Kauffman, seniors at Holly Springs High School, are serving as dance captains this year because of their experience in the parade three years ago.
“We know what to expect, which kind of makes it more exciting,” Kelly said last week at a rehearsal. “I just want to be there already. I don’t want to wait.”
The Holly Springs School of Dance will join dancers from all over the country with Spirit of America Productions, the organization that invites groups to participate.
“The first year that you are a part of it, if you do a great job, they are going to invite you back,” Chappell said. “If you don’t do a great job, they are not going to let you participate ever again.”
The dancers will arrive in New York on Saturday, Nov. 21, and immediately kick off regular four- to six-hour rehearsals.
But there is a big difference between practicing in a dance studio and performing in front of millions of people at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“That’s basically what the rehearsals are for,” Kelly said. “Not even learning the dance because you are expected to know it. It is learning how to be sprinting, while smiling and kicking your skirt.”
“They want us to be the Rockettes,” Kauffman said laughing.
There is also the possibility that when they arrive in New York, the dance could be changed, which Kelly said has happened before.
“We drill it,” she said. “We know it. We can do it in our sleep, backwards, upside down, in water, who knows? And then all of a sudden, we get there and they say, ‘We’re actually going to change it.’ ”
But everyone still has plenty of fun.
“The whole trip is exhausting, but you don’t even notice,” Kauffman said. “It will exceed everyone’s expectations, and I just can’t wait to be there and experience that altogether as a group.”
Because the parade goes on for 60 blocks, the group’s two-minute dance doesn’t last long. But Kelly and Kauffman said their favorite part of the entire week is walking the rest of the way in the parade.
Everywhere you look, there are people that are adoring you, and it’s the best feeling in the world.
“We’re just waving at everyone, soaking in everyone’s excitement,” Kauffman said. “Everywhere you look, there are people that are adoring you, and it’s the best feeling in the world.”
However, the trip of a lifetime does come with a big price tag, which is part of the reason it happens every three years. This year’s group raised $17,000 through fundraisers.
“They have done a ton of different things collectively to raise as much money as possible,” Chappell said. “We really couldn’t have done it without the support of the community.”
During the trip to New York, the girls will also see “Hamilton” on Broadway and a Rockettes performance and will visit the Statue of Liberty.
“If I go back, historically, and ask all the dancers that I’ve taken on this trip before, so many of them would say it really is less about the actual performance in front of Macy’s and more about the entire experience,” Chappell said.
“A lot of times the dancers will say their favorite part of parade is walking the parade route and seeing thousands of people that are cheering for them and supporting them,” she said. “That’s really a once in a lifetime experience.”
Kathryn Trogdon; 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade performers
▪ Fifteen local athletes from the YMCA Super Skippers will jump-rope the 3-mile parade route at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year in front of millions of viewers.
Rope skippers Nicole Enright, Matthew Russell, Sarah Brescia, Justin McCormac, Ronnie Shvueli, Jessie Robinson, Hailey Haymond, Natalie Ellis, Ashlyn Worthington, Abby Strickler, Madison McClellan, Nick Higgins, Ashleigh Steadman, Kylie O’Connor, and Kamrin Dean have been training for months so they can jump the entire distance.
The local jumpers are part of a larger group of 108 performers called Jumpers United for Macy’s Parade. This is the third appearance for J.U.M.P. in the Macy’s parade, with male and female jumpers ranging in age from 12 to 24. Jumpers, including those from the Triangle, will be performing many tricks and skills in unison as they jump their way along the route.
“It’s exciting to see it all come together,” said Catherine Perry, the YMCA Super Skippers head coach, in a news release. “This is the experience of a lifetime and a great opportunity to be in front of a national television audience doing something fresh, fun and electrifying.”
▪ The Cary High School Band will march in next year’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The band is in the process of fundraising to be reduce the costs of the trip, which is estimated at $1,250 per person. Learn more at bit.ly/1H8AYr2.