For every Thanksgiving for as long as she can remember, Hailey Arnell, 11, of North Bellmore, has watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at home in her pajamas with her younger sister, Nikki. But this year, that tradition will be broken. Instead of watching the parade on TV, Hailey will be a part of the action.
Preceding Santa Claus’s appearance in Herald Square on Thanksgiving will be a performance by the Nice List, a group of young dancers from across the country selected by U.S. Tournament of Dance. The dancers’ ages range from 7 to 14. The Macy’s-branded performance will feature 100 tap-dancing Santas executing intricate routines live in front of thousands of spectators and an estimated 50 million viewers.
Rory McDonough, the owner of the Air Dance & Theatre Studio in Merrick, where Hailey takes classes, told the Arnells about the opportunity earlier this year. Hailey told the Herald Life she “really wanted to try out,” so in September the family headed to Hartford, Conn., for the single-day audition.
“It was a three-hour tryout process,” she said. “We learned the dance we’d be performing, had trial classes with different styles of tap and, by the end, I made it. I was so excited, I didn’t know what to think.”
Hailey, a sixth-grader at Saw Mill Road Elementary School, has danced since she was 2, but this is the first time she will perform with a nationally recognized company. Sean Flanagan, the president and CEO of USTD, said 300 dancers came to the audition, and 98 were selected for the performance.
“We had a team of tap professionals at the event who were scouting dancers as they were learning the combos,” he said. “They looked for dancers that had the ability to pick up choreography quickly and execute it, as well as technique. Hailey stood out to our professional creative team.”
While the Nice List is made up of dancers from across the country, only a small number of Long Islanders were selected, Flanagan added. “It’s quite an achievement for her,” he said of Hailey.
Since September, the group has held four six-hour-long rehearsals at a large studio space in Brewster, N.Y., and camera blocking with NBC is slated for Nov. 25. While the long days have been “very intense and grueling,” Flanagan said, “the dancers are responding well and the routines are coming together very nicely.”
The routine includes “intricate tap formations,” Flanagan added, but that’s no problem for Hailey, who favors tap over other dance styles.
She noted the difference between dancing in competition and on live TV. “At competitions there are judges watching you all the time — for the parade there’s 50 million people,” she said. “There are not that many at competitions!”
She also acknowledged the opportunity to work with others and make new friends. Since rehearsals for the performance began, she has formed a friendship with her dance partner, Claire, a 13-year-old from East Rockaway.
“I’m probably going to be very nervous — I don’t want to mess up in front of all those people,” she said with a giggle. “But after watching the parade since I was really little, I think it’ll be very exciting.”
Hailey’s parents are equally thrilled. Her mother, Stephanie, said that when Hailey’s number was called at auditions, the family erupted in a chorus of celebratory screams. “I had no voice the next day,” Stephanie said.
Her father, Mat, commended his 11-year-old’s determination. “When she puts her mind to something, she does it, and we’re super proud,” he said.
Thinking of this Thanksgiving — which is one of her favorite holidays — Hailey said she looked forward to “seeing everything in action.” The group will march in the parade for two and a half miles before arriving at Herald Square.
Hailey also shared what she is most thankful for this year: “Definitely to be in the parade.”