Local dancer in Macy’s Parade
By Kathryn Schiliro
Morgan Hendrix spent her Thanksgiving holiday hours, miles, states away from her family.
She sacrificed her holiday to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to be a dancer in the 86th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
In additional to being an International Baccalaureate student and senior at Morgan County High School – "with a little bit of a social life if I can fit it in," she said – the 18-year-old has been dancing for 13 years. All of that time has been spent at Charlotte's School of Dance and Performing Arts in Loganville.
Hendrix describes them as being "like family."
A dedicated dancer, she's in ballet, tap, jazz, clogging and even hip hop classes at the dance school.
In New York City for a full week starting the Friday before Thanksgiving, Hendrix was accompanied by her grandparents and 14 other dancers and teachers from her dance school. They joined the 700 total dancers and 700 cheerleaders as part of the Spirit of America Productions, the troupe made up of dancers and cheerleaders from all over the U.S. responsible for participating in the Macy's parade.
The entire Spirit of America group was housed in one hotel, an opportunity that provided for fellowship amongst kindred spirits.
"I met so many new people from everywhere," Hendrix said.
Charlotte's School of Dance students participated in the parade in the past, and they were called up for this year's parade and asked if they wanted to participate. School administrators agreed, and the 14 dancers had one year to raise the $2,000 needed for the trip, a cost that included the hotel stay at the Hilton a block from Times Square, meals, the costume for the parade, attractions and paying the Spirit of America dance teachers and choreographers that prepared the 700 dancers for their routine. The cost of plane tickets wasn't included in the $2,000 fee, so dancers had to come up with that money, as well as any spending money, on their own too.
Hendrix was "definitely surprised at the price of living in New York City," she said, where gas was $4.27 a gallon and a single-serving box of cereal cost more than $2.
The process of preparing for the parade was even more surprising. Hendrix said she woke up at 5 a.m. daily in order to get ready, eat breakfast and be at "very rigorous" rehearsals at 8 a.m. Morning rehearsals lasted from 8 a.m. to noon and afternoon rehearsals, after a one-and-a-half-hour break for lunch, dancers worked until 4 p.m. And Wednesday included an in-costume dress rehearsal.
The similarities between her Loganville teachers and the New York teachers and choreographers, Hendrix said, were that both are "very organized and very precise in what they wanted." But the New York teachers had to handle a much larger group and were more strict.
"We walked in and had three-and-a-half hours of rehearsal with maybe a five-minute rest break," Hendrix said. "In dance we have a little bit more breaks, like two to three five-minute breaks... At dance, they don't have to be as strict because everyone knows what to do and what's expected."
In the midst of all this, the Spirit of America package included time for attractions, including the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, the Broadway show "Bring It On," and seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
"It's their 85th year, so it (the show) was a big celebration," Hendrix said.
There were "plans every single day from 8 a.m. until 11:30 at night," she said. "I didn't get much sleep at all."
An unexpected treat, Hendrix got to see the huge Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza going up.
"There was scaffolding all the way around it so people could climb up and put ornaments on it," she said.
Then there was shopping.
"All the stores are huge, enormous," she said. Macy's itself is nine stories; a Victoria's Secret store she saw was two stories.
"Every single major fashion designer had stores upon stores," Hendrix said.
On Canal Street, Hendrix was asked by a vendor if she wanted to buy a purse.
"She takes us into the store and opens a door into a hall we didn't know was there," Hendrix said. "Then we went down a hallway into another room with knock-off purses."
The experience was admittedly a bit uncomforable.
Then there was a taxi ride and, of course, the subway, "an experience all its own," she said. Groups of Spirit of America participants would pile into one car in order to stay together. "I think all the New Yorkers hated us (for cramming the subway cars)."
But there was a lot of walking, as taxis tended to be cost-prohibitive.
"We had to walk a lot of places," she said. "Taxis are expensive, so walking in 20-degree weather was our only option. The weather was uncomfortable."
Thanksgiving Day, Hendrix was up at a "very, very cold" 4 a.m. to be at the parade's Central Park staging ground by 6 a.m.
"Once we got dancing, we had to walk four miles all the way to Macy's from Central Park," she said. "I was having so much fun though, I couldn't feel the cold."
The Spirit of America dancers were dressed as court jesters, half the company in white outfits and half in black. Another surprise, the dancers had to wear masks, which they didn't know about until the day before.
Marching in the parade behind The Wanted and Whoopi Goldberg and in front of a balloon, she noticed that on one side of the street there were people hanging out of buildings watching and on the other side there were onlookers 100 feet deep behind the barracades.
"It was a lot of fun," Hendrix said. "People were blowing kisses at me."
A "definite experience," Hendrix's talent bought her a front row spot in the performance in front of Macy's. Because she was masked, Hendrix had a trick up her sleeve to make sure her family at home knew which dancer she was.
"I was on the front row," she said. "Everyone at home called and said they recorded it... At the end [of the performance], I licked my lips so people would know it was me."
And though she didn't get to have Thanksgiving with her family – they celebrated the Sunday after instead – Hendrix and her grandparents trekked to a cafe up the street from their hotel "world-known for their cheesecake" and had a New York version of Thanksgiving Dinner, complete with cheesecake for dessert.
Printed in the December 6, 2012 edition