By Lindsay Carey
The magic of going to Walt Disney World is every child’s dream. For performers, Disney is a stage they only dream of one day gracing as it has given many great artists their start.
However, for some of Southington’s youth, performing at Disney recently became a reality.
Seventy-seven students from the Academy of Music and Dance studios in Southington and Wallingford and their families recently traveled to Orlando, FL, with seven staff members, to perform in Dance the World, a large dance festival held annually at Disney.
The Academy of Music and Dance studios had two parades, one at Magic Kingdom for the dancers 10 and older and another at Hollywood Studios for ages nine and under.
“It was a little surreal,” said Jen Monte, who has been with the studio for seven years. “When we were in the parade, we were right by the castle. You could look up and see it.”
Her sister, Jess Monte, echoed her sister’s nostalgia of the parade. “It was a once in a life time experience,” she said
Courtney Billings, the studio director, said she found out about the festival through some of her colleagues who spoke fondly of the experience. The dancers had been practicing for their parades and a big performance at a theater in Hollywood Studios since September.
When the festival finally rolled around, they were ready to swing dance in their Fourth of July inspired red, white and blue costumes.
“It was so fun, it didn’t even seem like a half a mile,” said Jessica Babicz, one of the dancers in the younger group.
Babicz said she was apprehensive when she found out she would not be performing with her brother, who was in the older group. However, after seeing him perform she felt more confident. “He looked like he was having fun.”
She was also proud that her studio had their own parade, so that they didn’t have to share the spotlight with anyone else. The young dancer also said that she appreciated the Dance the World staff, because they were encouraging in their direction, instead of being strict.
Billings said the Babicz family from Southington was one of the first families to express interest in participating in the festival.
Matthew Babicz started dancing four years ago after a trip to Disney with his family, where he had a revelation that he wanted to become a Disney world performer.
“It was amazing, a dream come true,” said Babicz about his experience with Dance the World, which further affirmed his aspiration.
He credited his Academy of Music and Dance instructor with keeping him motivated to keep trying until he gets a dance number just right.
With three parades a day and rehearsals every hour for thousands of dancers from around the US, in addition to groups from Canada and Mexico, Billings said the festival was really well put together.
After the festival, the group got to attend a special gala in a secret location within Epcot.
“It was like the heavens opened and there was a massive banquet hall,” said Billings about the private location of the gala, which is not open to the public. Billings even said they had to put away their cameras and were sworn to secrecy about the private things they saw.
The red carpet was laid out, a DJ was spinning records and they were served food. All of the directors, dancers and their families were recognized at the dinner party for participating.
“I am positive I would do it again,” said Billings.
Not only was opportunity of the Dance the World experience a pleasure for the studio director and her dancers, but just being at Disney World among friends was a dream.
“How often do you do the Disney experience with friends? That was incredible for the kids to have that experience,” said Billings. “It was fun for me too.”