Alexis Vaconez, 16, recently had the experience of a lifetime. The Chantilly High School student performed on a Broadway stage as part of the Rockettes Summer Dance Institute.
"This was a life-changing opportunity for me that helped to build my self-confidence and reinforce my commitment to dance," said Alexis of Chantilly Highlands.
Alexis and her friend, Christina Krueger, 15, participated in the one-week program from July 16-22. They attended daily practice sessions at Radio City Music Hall and ended with a Broadway performance on July 21.
The dance institute was "a great experience," said Christina, who lives in Franklin Glen. Both girls have been dancing at the Russell School of Ballet from young ages; Alexis since age 6 and Christina since age 3. They are both members of Chantilly High School's Magic Touch Show Choir.
"Dancing is what I want to do for a career," said Christina, who takes ballet, jazz, hip-hop, tap, and modern dance classes. Alexis has experience in ballet, jazz, tap, precision, lyrical, and modern, her specialty being hip-hop.
It was Christina who first found out about the program when she visited New York City several years ago with her family. "At the time I was too young to participate, but this year my dad looked online and found out that there was an audition at the Kennedy Center last February," explained Christina, who is a sophomore member of the Charger Dance Team.
"Christina got the information on the program and try-outs off the internet and encouraged me to try out with her," added Alexis, a member of the Fairfax Ballet's Junior Company. "We found out that we had been accepted in early April. I was really excited to be able to have this kind of opportunity."
THE ROCKETTES Summer Intensive Dance Program has four sessions each year, three of which are in New York City and one of which is in Pittsburgh. Seventy-five girls are chosen to participate in each session.
Girls who participate are automatically invited to participate in the following year's program, where they are placed at an advanced level.
Alexis and Christina arrived in New York on July 16. They spent the week attending daily practice sessions at Radio City Music Hall from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. The girls learned new dance routines from the Rockettes and prepared for their final Broadway performance.
"We learned some of the Rockette's routines from the Christmas Spectacular and the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade," said Alexis.
The program also featured seminars with guest speakers who discussed topics like health, nutrition, and sports medicine. During another practice session, the girls went through mock auditions and were given feedback by the professional choreographers and dancers.
"It was hard to get up early and dance for 8-9 hours every day," said Christina.
"Each day every person got sore, but you had to get up early the next day and practice again," agreed Alexis.
The girls participated in the final performance on July 21 at the American Airlines Theater on Broadway.
"We performed dances that had us dance as rag dolls and toy soldiers," said ALexis. "The performance took a couple of hours."
"The Broadway stage was amazing," said Christina. "I love dancing in front of people, and I love showing off what I can do, so being on a big Broadway stage was phenomenal."
Though this amazing experience is now over, both Alexis and Christina are excited for their future as dancers. They both plan on returning to the program next summer.
Alexis plans on using the skills she learned from the program to help a local CYA cheerleading squad with their dance routines this fall. She hopes to attend James Madison University in two years, where she plans on pursuing a double major in dance and accounting. "This experience will be among the highlights of my dance resume," said Alexis.
Christina aspires to become a famous hip-hop choreographer, a hip-hop dancer in movies, or a Rockette. "I learned that it takes more then just talent, even though that is a big part of it," she said. "It also takes personality, and being able to get along with the people you dance with. You also have to believe in yourself. Your teachers can say that they know you'll do great, but it won't mean anything unless you tell yourself that you'll do great."