Standing 22 stories high on the Connecticut skyline, the Hartford Marriott Downtown grand hotel, hosted more than 350 tap dancers on Sept. 29, who competed for the opportunity to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Among hundreds of apprehensive girl and boy tap performers ages 11 to 14, were Lynbrook South Middle School students Rachel Stein, 12, and Claire Everett, 13. The two said they waited anxiously, after six hours of grueling tryouts in the hope that the audition numbers taped to their chests would be selected by the judges.
Rachel said that tears streamed down her face and she began to smile, unraveling her tightly crossed fingers after the judges called out 357 — her audition number.
“I have been dreaming of this since I was a kid,” she said, recalling the moment she heard her number called. “Tap dancing is my passion because I like hearing how crisp it sounds and how it makes music and rhythm with my feet.”
Rachel has tap danced competitively since she was 2. She said she enjoys tapping because she can express herself through precise sounds. She added that she also finds that the most important part of tapping is keeping her energy high and making sure that her timing and sound are appropriate.
As the time reached closer to 7 p.m. on the day of the audition, more and more numbers were being called, and beads of sweat continued to drip down Claire’s face, she said, as she waited and controlled the desire to rip off her tap shoes from her feet — still aching from the audition.
Claire said she was relieved and her eyes grew wide when she heard her number, 404, get called.
“I love tap dancing because it can be done to slow or fast music and you don’t always need music,” she said, adding that she has been performing for seven years. “I’ve never been on TV before, so I’m very excited, but I’m also nervous because you only get one chance to perform and you can’t mess up.”
As two of 98 dancers that were selected to be in the parade, Rachel and Claire, will both perform in front of millions of people, on Thanksgiving Day at 9 a.m., live on NBC. Both girls have admitted to having feelings of nervousness because of their upcoming performance, but they said that they find that throughout their years of experience dancing, they have both learned ways to cope with nerves.
“I practice a lot,” Rachesl said, referring to how she overcomes stage fright. “I also keep going over the dance over and over again in my head.”
“I always breathe in and out before I perform,” Claire said. “I also talk a lot before I go on stage.”
On Thanksgiving Day, millions of people will line up along the 2.5-mile parade route, from 77th & Central Park West to 34th Street-Herald Square, to witness floats, performers and balloons.
This year marks the 93rd anniversary of the annual New York City spectacle, which began in 1924 and took a brief hiatus from 1942-44 during World War II.
For the dancers’ mothers, they are more excited than nervous for their daughters to get to perform in the parade.
“It was the icing on the cake hearing that my daughter landed a spot in the parade,” said Rachel’s mother, Jill Stein. “We are more than proud of her because she gets to show off all her hard work.”
“It’s amazing to know that my daughter will be a part of something that’s nationally watched,” Claire’s mother, Katherine Everett said. “I look forward to seeing my daughter’s joy and happiness when she performs.”