Not many people get the opportunity that Marjory Stoneman Douglas sophomore Jessica Popkin received this Thanksgiving. Popkin, along with 697 other girls, danced across the television screens of millions. Popkin was given a once in a lifetime opportunity to perform in the 89th annual Macy’s Day Parade.
Last year, Popkin’s dance company, Dance Theatre Company (DTC), submitted a videotape of their dancers performing at the halftime show for the Miami Heat for the chance to perform in the Macy’s Day Parade. They performed as part of Spirit of America, an organization that hosts two performances annually in the parade, both a cheerleading and a dancing group.
DTC’s submission was ultimately accepted, giving a total of 40 girls from the Parkland and Coral Springs area the opportunity to perform in the parade.
“When I found out I would be performing in the Macy’s Day Parade, I couldn’t breathe,” said Popkin. “I felt it was too amazing to be real.”
The girls practiced for the parade for nearly one year. However, after months of rigorous practice and preparation, just two weeks before the parade, Popkin sprained her ankle and tore two ligaments.
“At first I cried, not because of pain, but because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Popkin.
In the two weeks leading up to the parade, Popkin was forced to use a wheelchair or crutches to get around, minimizing pressure on her ankle and preventing it from further injury. Those two weeks carried lots of uncertainty, as Popkin did not know whether or not she would be able to perform.
On Nov. 19, the entire 2016 Spirit of America group arrived in New York City. The girls of DTC stayed there for five days before Thanksgiving Day.
The dancers’ rigorous practice schedule continued when they were in New York. The first day they practiced for six hours, followed by daily five-hour practices for the rest of the days leading up to the parade. They also spent nearly two hours one night running through their routines at the actual performance space where the parade took place. The girls received only a singular day off from practicing while in New York that they highly appreciated.
When they were not practicing, they got to see the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial, as well as a two Broadway shows, “School of Rock” and “Wicked.” Even though in the days leading up the parade Popkin had to do a significant amount of walking, she performed without a hitch on Thanksgiving day.
“The day of the parade, I was totally fine and did the dance without anything on my foot except for a small flexible brace,” said Popkin.
According to Popkin, the Spirit of America girls’ parade day began with a short rehearsal before riding the subway to the start of the parade. They waited for two hours at the entrance of the Natural History Museum where they received polar shields to help keep them warm.
During the parade, Popkin and the rest of Spirit of America marched together and alternated between two chants that they were taught. When the girls were not cheering, they waved and smiled at the crowd, wishing them a happy Thanksgiving.
“When the parade ended most of us couldn’t believe what we just did,” Popkin said. “We weren’t that excited until we got back to our hotels and took a second to say, ‘Oh my gosh. We just performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on national television.’”
Popkin enjoyed the once in a lifetime opportunity of being in the Macy’s Day Parade. Regardless of the few bumps in the road that Popkin faced, she definitely hopes to be a part of the parade again.