Local dancers to perform in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Published 7:30 pm Saturday, November 19, 2016

There are a few jitters to deal with, but nothing in comparison to the rush and excitement local students from the Debra Franco Preparatory School of Dance are feeling.   ///   Alexandra Scott, Madeline Burke, Sarah Jane Pierce and Natalie Clanton boarded a plane Sunday, headed to New York, to join dancers from around the country to perform in the 90th annual Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“This is a once in a lifetime type of experience,” Clanton said, of getting the opportunity to perform in the iconic parade, which will air on NBC Thursday at 9 a.m.

For weeks, all four girls have been practicing and learning the dances they will perform alongside the other members of the Spirit of America Dance Team — one of the groups set to perform in the parade.

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Since 2004, dance studio owner Debra Franco, has been offering her advanced ninth through 12th grade students the opportunity to dance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“The majority of the students who will be dancing in the parade are juniors and seniors in high school,” Franco said, explaining that most of the dancers in the parade have been chosen as all-star dancers from summer dance team camps offered throughout the U.S.

“Then there are a handful of other students participating who are from studios that get invited,” Franco said, which is how the Debra Franco Preparatory School of Dance participates.

Franco’s studio and is only one of two dance studios in Mississippi that are invited each year to dance in the parade.

However, because of the expense of traveling to New York, Franco said she has made it a tradition to only take students every four years.

This time frame, she said, still affords all of her high school age students the opportunity to perform in the parade.

Burke said she recalled watching students from the dance studio in previous years prepare for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and now it is finally her turn.

“I think it is the build up excitement of watching all the older kids go, so it’s like we sat there and watched them and now it’s our turn!” she said.

In addition to bragging rights of having performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the local dancers said they are also looking forward to expanding their dance skills and working with a large group of people.

“This experience is going to teach me about working with a big group and a big production,” Burke said.

“It will also teach us to learn quicker and to be able to pick up dances faster and be able to perform them in a short period of time,” Clanton said.

Scott echoed Clanton’s thoughts.

“It is going to teach us how to work better with such a large group of dancers in such a fast pace. We will have to finish learning this dance and then they will have us in formations with 600-plus girls. So this will teach us to be more focused,” she said, adding “and the experience of dancing in a parade will be pretty awesome.”

Pierce said she is looking forward to the experience of meeting other dancers from across the country.

“ I think it will be cool to meet people from all over and see how the whole thing will fold out,” she said.

While in New York, Franco said the dancers would also have the opportunity to train with New York City dancers.

“They bring in teachers from Broadway dance centers,” Franco said, to work with the dancers during rehearsals.

In addition to these rehearsals, dancers will also participate in group activities.

“We will be going to the Empire State Building and the 911 memorial, and we will go see the Broadway show “School of Rock” one night,” Clanton said.

Following the show, dancers will be given the opportunity to meet and talk with the performers, Franco said, since the theater is booked exclusively for the Spirit of America Dance Team.

This will give the girls an up close and personal experience to the New York theater world, she said.

The dancers will also get to see the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Show.

“I am most excited about seeing that, Clanton said. “I used to dream about being a Rockette.

“Their Christmas Spectacular is on Netflix,” Burke said, “and I watch it every Christmas, and this year I am going to get to see it in person!”

While the highlights of the trip may differ from dancer to dancer, for Franco it is always the same.

“I think the highlight of the trip with the students is seeing New York City through their eyes and knowing I was able to offer them that experience,” Franco said, adding “and with each group I have taken there will always be little things I will never forget.”


About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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