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By Michael Drakulich
Photograph by Matthew Grotto
The Southtown Star
December 28, 2010
[Abridged]    Full Article


Twelve-year-old Riley McMurray’s schedule isn’t exactly ho-hum — there’s his daily schoolwork, dance class, and he wwplays saxophone in the school band. Not to mention, he’s dancing in the Joffrey Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” through Dec. 26.

“I’m just having so much fun,” Riley said. “I want to keep going and going.”

Riley is one of several youngsters from the Southland getting a taste this holiday season of what it’s like to be a professional dancer.

More than a dozen kids from the area since late September have been rehearsing on weekends — all for 10 minutes or so on stage in the production playing this month at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. Four young dancers from the Southland were on stage for opening night Dec. 10 and were scheduled for several more performances.

The youngsters say their work is more than worth it. After all, it’s the Joffrey Ballet and a chance to be in its “Nutcracker” production.

Riley, of Oak Forest, is sort of a “Nutcracker” veteran, having performed in the show in three past years.

In addition to handling his schoolwork, he’s in dance class three hours a night, five times a week. His mother, Amy McMurray, said the schedule ramps up even more in the summer, when he is in class six days a week for a six-week intensive practice session.

But Riley doesn’t shy away from new challenges or a busy schedule. In each of his four years in the show, his role has increased, he said.

He still gets nervous. But once he gets past the first performance, he settles down, he said. His experience with the production is valuable practice for the career he wants as a professional dancer. It allows him to look around and imagine where he might be in a few years.

“It’s kind of exciting to see what my future might be,” he said.

Being in “The Nutcracker” cast is a first for Patrick Sullivan, 12, of Tinley Park. He has performed in “Hansel and Gretel” with his dance studio in Homer Glen but not in any production this big.

Patrick has been dancing for five years. He remembers being little and seeing people dancing in a studio and wanting to do the same. Now that he’s gotten a taste of what it’s like to be on a big stage, he’s hooked. “I was nervous at first. I’ve never performed in front of audiences that big before. But I definitely want to do it again,” he said.

After rehearsing on weekends for more than two months and although he is sore after every rehearsal, Patrick finds the energy to talk at length about his experience on rides home, said his mother, LeaAnne Sullivan. He can’t seem to contain his excitement, she said.

Patrick, who has played summer baseball, said even though some people may not believe so, dancing is just as hard if not harder than playing sports.

He does it for another benefit as well. “It’s a great way to meet girls,” he said.


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