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By Anna Velasco

The Birmingham News

March 17, 2009

 

 

 

BIRMINGHAM — Alex Swader is cute as a bug.

Literally.

The 9-year-old danced his way into an opening-night part in Birmingham for the touring Broad­way show “Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy” through a February audition at the Riverchase Galleria.

The reaction to his role as a tap-dancing grass­hopper was so positive last week that the produc­er called him back for encore performances at Sat­urday’s and Sunday’s matinees.

“Not only did Alex receive an overwhelming response from the audience, but the actual cast loved him, too,” said David Barry, director of mar­keting for Broadway Across America-Birming­ham.

Alex has been dancing since he was 3, and the Mount Olive Elementary student’s success is no­table in itself.

 

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy Wardrobe Supervisor George Pires, left, helps Alex Swader, 9, complete his transformation into a tap-dancing grasshopper backstage at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex concert hall. (Tamika Moore)

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy Wardrobe Supervisor George Pires, left, helps Alex Swader, 9, complete his transformation into a tap-dancing grasshopper backstage at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex concert hall. (Tamika Moore)

 

 

But there is a backstory, too.

Alex was diagnosed with cancer — Ewing’s sarcoma — in January 2008 and spent eight months last year in treatment, between surgery and chemotherapy.

That meant much less time dancing than nor­mal. But the third-grade honors student is now in remission, and the turnaround left his mother weak with joy when she saw him perform opening night. “Tears were streaming down my face,” said Michele Swader.

Alex was one of two locals picked through the February auditions to perform in Birmingham’s “Cirque Dreams,” which ended its six-day run here Sunday. Pamela Williams, director of stu­dent and academic services for the UAB School for Public Health, was a singing ladybug on open­ing night.

Alex got the music for his part about a week be­fore the performance. One of his dance instruc­tors, Kelley Akins of Kelley’s School of Dance in Trussville, choreographed the piece for him, and they practiced for several days.

Akins said Alex is both a quick study and a dedicated worker. “He has amazing talent, not only in his tap dancing but in his sense of rhythm,” Akins said. “His memory is incredible.”

In addition to tap, Alex also takes clogging, jazz and ballet and started piano lessons this year.

Alex won a national dancing competition for 6- to 8-year-olds when he was 7, and his clogging team also took first place that year.

Beverly Cunningham taught him dance then and said he has always stood out. “God has truly given him the gift,” she said.

Alex said he wasn’t scared in front of the crowds at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex concert hall. “The more people there are, the better I dance,” he said.

When he learned last week in school that the producer wanted him back for weekend shows, he was nothing short of elated. “Where’s a soft place I can land, because I’m going to faint,” he told the teacher bearing the good news.

Alex said it’s been fun to be one of the few young boy dancers among many girls.

Dancing and his bout with cancer have influenced him heavily. He invited two of his nurses from Children’s Hospital to accompany him to the Friday night show, where he got to watch the whole performance since he wasn’t backstage.

“I want to be a doctor or on Broadway,” Alex said.

 

Copyright © 2009 The Advertiser Co

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