Dreams Coming True

From a Line Around the Block to the Broadway Stage

About this time last year, I had the inspiring and heartwarming opportunity to attend the open auditions for Ballet Girls in “Billy Elliot.” It happened again this year, with nearly 200 girls and their parents waiting for hours outside the Broadhurst theatre in New York for the chance to dance for children’s casting director Nora Brennan. Just like last year, the girls were full of spirit and optimism, and their parents were excited to give their kids a chance to make their dreams come true.

As a culture, we’re getting used to seeing long lines of people waiting to audition for reality shows and talent contests; it almost always makes the news. This group is different. Mixed in among the hopefuls fresh from their first year of dance classes are pint-sized pros, many of whom have been dancing and performing since they were very young.

This year, though, I had a chance to meet and talk with one of the girls who had stood on that line on a similarly brisk mid-September morning last year and who is now in the show on Broadway. At 13, Maria May is a focused and dedicated professional who nonetheless who bubbles over with joy and excitement when she talks about being in this great, big Broadway show.

By the time Maria got on line last year, she already had an impressive resume. She was born in Spain and remembers watching “The Nutcracker” with her cousins and thinking this is what she wanted to do. When her family moved back to the U.S., she tried out for—and got into—the School of American Ballet and then playing the pivotal role of Marie in “The Nutcracker” with the New York City Ballet for three years before going on tour with the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.”

As to what made Maria stand out when there were about 20 girls on the stage at one time, Brennan says that it starts with looking for certain types of girls to fill the various different roles of the Ballet Girls. Then they look for a high level of skills in both ballet and tap dancing.

Maria, who now attends 8th grade at the Professional Performing Arts School, just steps away from the theater, says that the past year in the show has helped her “get extremely professional, stay on top of everything—school, the show—and really keep up with everything and do the show, which is performed 8 times a week. What she loves about it is working with the other girls, and of course the thrill of being on stage, all of which makes the hard work worth it.

I also had the chance to talk to Brianna Fragomeni, 14, who has been with the show since it opened. She is what they call a “swing,” which means she goes on for other girls when they can’t. It’s a tough job because she has to know every part the different Ballet Girls play, not just her own, and be able to go on with very short notice. But, like Maria, she loves it. “Every time I step on that stage,” she says, I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do,” she says, with an excitement that’s infectious.

What’s striking about both girls is their professionalism and their dedication to doing the work as well as their maturity. As a performer myself as a young person, I well remember how my fellow kid performers and I had to be professionals and the responsibilities that came along with it. But also, as these young women demonstrate, there was plenty of joy at doing something so special, which made it all worthwhile. And while my singing and dancing days are well behind me, I am still incredibly grateful for the discipline and focus I learned at a young age.

As a culture, we’re inundated with shows that make people stars or where people can become famous for going on dates, getting married or just going about their business. Obviously, that can happen, but to only the tiniest fraction of the population.

Maria and Brianna already know that to do something you love, it takes hard work, practice and dedication and that may or may not pay off.

Maria, with wisdom beyond her years, would tell all the girls waiting on the line that whatever happens at the audition, they should be themselves, take a chance and realize that they’ve had an amazing chance to have a real Broadway audition.

No wonder I felt like dancing down the street after talking to these incredible young women.

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