In one hour, we are meeting in the lobby of the hotel to walk to The Music Center. We just finished having a beauty shop in my room – Alan stood by the window and watched the proceedings, as curling irons, straightening irons, hairspray and make-up was passed around, resulting in 4 girls from Project UP looking like angels!!! That’s what Nigel Lythgoe calls them – this morning at rehearsal, he called out, “Good morning to my angels from Merrimack Hall.” How cool is that?
The rehearsals were incredible…we saw Travis Wall set a piece on 3 dancers who won Dizzy Feet scholarships, saw the cast of the Step Up movies rehearse an incredible hip hop piece that will be the finale of the show, watched the youth world champion ballroom dance couple, saw the San Francisco Ballet and even Wayne Brady with his dance crew. Every time someone else took the stage to rehearse, it was more exciting than the last.
The Project UP and Element dancers conducted themselves like seasoned pros – politely waiting in the audience, taking their places when called, following their cues, improvising with a new bench the prop department got for us. All 10 of them acted like they had performed in a 3100 seat theatre before – Connor said, “It’s just like our theatre, only bigger!”
As we were leaving the venue to get lunch, we saw Twitch approaching – the man who made all this possible! It was Twitch who reported to the Dizzy Feet Board of Directors that our program was, “the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen” and it was Twitch who agreed to pitch the idea of our performing to the Board for me. Without his endorsement, this dream wouldn’t be happening.
As we were walking to lunch, Carolyn said, “I miss Zach…but Connor has the same swag that Zach does!” We all miss Zach and hope his father is continuing to improve. We will share the stories of our adventures with him when we get home and, good sport that he is, Zach will relish hearing about our adventures.
I don’t know who’s teared up more the last 24 hours – Alan, our daughter, Emma, or me. I took Emma with us to rehearsal today and every time she and I looked at each other, we started crying. We finally decided not to look at each other at all. Alan didn’t want to see rehearsal – he said he wants to be prepared to feel all the emotions fresh tonight – pride, amazement, joy – at our kids and what they’ve accomplished. We are thilled that Emma was able to get off work and meet us out here and our son, Austin, is with us too. Merrimack Hall has always been a family project – when we founded the organization, we said it was our family’s gift to the community. I am so grateful that all 4 of us are here together to share in this amazing moment.
Yesterday, Jeff Thacker (Executive Producer of So You Think You Can Dance and Director of tonight’s Gala) told Hayley Henderson that her choreography was “brilliant.” I couldn’t agree more. She has managed to use dance to depict some powerful emotions and a compelling message. I am so proud of her I could scream…actually, I did scream – at the top of my lungs while we were waiting for the light to change so we could cross the street! I was just so excited after rehearsal that I couldn’t hold back and Connor told me he thought I had gone nuts! Katie said I was crazy and was embarrassing her, so I’ll try to hold it in – at least until the end of the black tie dinner, but I’m not making any promises.
This trip is evidence that if you dream big, your dreams can come true. Alan and I have the philosophy that if you think about doing something, you should go big or go home and that you should, in the words of Nike, “Just do it.” If someone had told me back in 2007 when we opened the doors to Merrimack Hall that our kids with special needs would be dancing on the same stage with some of the world’s most famous and talented dancers, I would have politely ask you what you had been smoking! But we had a big dream and we just did it – with the help of our community, our donors, our ticket buyers, our incredible volunteers and of course, with the help of the wonderful children who are part of our program. They have changed our lives forever, they have touched our hearts profoundly, and tonight, they will take their message of acceptance to the largest audience ever. Our kids are going to change the world – as Anna C says – one dancer, one twirl at a time!