Updated: Apr 5, 2022
I remember the night I was asked to be a part of the production, I was so thrilled, I almost cried! I’ll never forget what one of my choreographers said to my mom, “This is going to be a moment we’re going to look back on and say ‘wow!’” The hardest part was keeping it a secret - feeling the excitement overflowing inside, but not being able to tell friends at school.
I started my dancing journey at age 4 at a special needs inclusive dance class where parents were welcome to participate and assist. Now, I’m 14 years old and train in multiple forms of dance, especially modern, contemporary, and hip-hop. I’m part of the DREAM & Celebration Team at the National Dance Institute (NDI) and Born Dancing, both companies based in New York City. I represented the NDI Teams in their annual Gala & Event of the Year, and in NBC’s Annie Live!. I was also featured in Born Dancing’s “Run” video.
I believe disability doesn’t give or take away talent. Disability is only relevant when you let it be and dance is not one of those times. When I dance, I forget I have a disease that affects me in many ways. I’m able to let any emotion out and tell a story at the same time - each movement conveys a message in a special way. When I started, I felt like a spotlight was put on me and it truly changed my life.
I was among 51 other dancers selected to participate in this broadcast, and we worked with the Annie Live! Tony Award-winning choreographer and the award-winning Directors every week for more than 9 weeks. We learned patience and flexibility. We had to get used to walking into rehearsal each day knowing something probably changed - there were changes being made right up until the show aired on December 2, 2021. Seeing the whole production come together, while doing it live, was amazing. I give so much credit to the camera people who were tripping over wires just to get the perfect shot. As you may know, the musical Annie points to a better world, the one we want to live in. We
are all hungry right now for a glimpse of that possibility. In the show, when Annie sings “Tomorrow” at the White House for FDR, her bold proposal impacts the future of the country, bringing about the “New Deal.” The production also does a beautiful job highlighting the fact that it is not just one girl who is special, it is about ALL girls. We all hold that strength and power inside us. All girls are Annie, and we need them and their voices now more than ever. The first time we were on-set together was crazy – you could feel how special it was.
Rehearsals started on Zoom, then gradually moved to the NDI Center. For a whole week, we began day-long rehearsals at the filming studio. Days consisted of many COVID tests, rehearsals, camera rehearsals, costume fittings, on-set tutoring, and of course, excitement. Being able to hear all the stars perfect their lines, steps, and flips was so exuberating. Being in this entertainment industry environment was the most amazing feeling.
On the live broadcast day, I really felt all the feels! Nervous, but so delighted. As soon as I woke up and then arrived on set, I could tell the day had finally come. There was constant news and radio station coverage, people were carrying bouquets of flowers everywhere, security measures were being set up for the live audience (metal detectors, bomb-detection dogs, etc.), there were signs for live audience parking, and so much more. One highlight was meeting the polio survivor who played FDR in the production. He went out of his way to meet my friends and me when he learned that fellow wheelchair-users were in the production. He was so heartwarming and inspiring, and told us to keep chasing our dreams; to not let anything stop us.
As we started lining up for a stage manager to come get us, we all couldn’t stop replaying the dance in our heads. As we walked from our holding area to the filming studio, you could hear the audience and press sound with exhilaration. When we finally got on stage and into our spots, they started the 15-second increment countdown to action. Every time they made an announcement, the audience gasped. We were all electrified to be the first and last thing 15 million television viewers would see.
After our bows, we all started crying. An Annie Live! chant started, and it was the most amazing feeling. What we had just accomplished was incredible. Knowing that I and a couple
of others were the first people in wheelchairs to be featured in this kind of production in the U.S. was unbelievable. The fact that this hasn’t happened before is kind of heartbreaking, but we are all breaking barriers and can’t wait to break more. As they say in showbiz, You are never fully dressed without a smile!
Tomorrow is always a day away, if you missed Annie Live!, you can stream it on Hulu and Peacock.