As timeless a tradition as turkey and trimmings, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade captures the attention of spectators across the country. This year, those viewing from Gainesville may see a familiar face flash across their screen (besides Astronaut Snoopy and the Pillsbury Doughboy, of course).
North Hall High School sophomore Julie Aldridge rounds off a group of 300 dancers who, by invitation, comprise the Spirit of America Dance Stars performing the parade’s opening number in Herald Square.
An audition tape submitted in early 2020 awarded Aldridge, along with her entire senior dance company at Heather Wayne Performing Arts, the golden ticket to New York City. Due to the pandemic, however, the trip was called off and the invitation re-extended for this year’s parade.
While the studio was unable to attend as a collective unit, Aldridge takes the stage Thursday morning as the only dancer representing both Gainesville and, with the exception of Brunswick-based Jill Stanford Dance Center, the Peach State.
“It’s an honor to finally get to go,” Aldridge said. “I’m just feeling everything at once.”
For Aldridge, performing is second nature — she’s been involved in the arts from the time she was four, starting with dance and adding the cello, piano and vocals by the time she reached second grade.
“Dance draws me — it’s the motion of it,” Aldridge said. “If I’m stressed or mad about something from school, I can just go to dance and let that mellow out.”
Beside the hour-long commute to the studio’s main campus in Hoschton, where she clocks between 15 and 40 hours each week, Aldridge is also involved in her high school’s chorus and ATLAS program, the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program, the Athens Youth Symphony and community service projects in and around Gainesville. She also recently made the All-State Reading Chorus, a select group of Georgia students with whom she’ll perform in January.
While she balances a full plate, the 15-year-old said the pile of extracurriculars has taught her much about the art of time management and self-discipline.
“I’ve been busy since second grade,” Aldridge quipped. “I am a hard worker; I always put 100% into everything that I do, including school and music, and hard work pays off.”
The path to success hasn’t been devoid of naysayers, inevitably, but Aldridge has used even ill-intentioned feedback as a catalyst for growth.
“If anything goes wrong or someone tells you otherwise, don’t give up on it — just ignore it and move on,” Aldridge said. “Always put your best foot forward. If it’s an audition and you don’t get the part, don’t be disappointed about it — just think of it as experience for the future and keep working at it.”
Aldridge also credits the support of her parents, who escorted her to the Big Apple along with her older brother: “They are very supportive of me, and I’m very thankful for that.”
“I’ve always told my kids, ‘Shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,’” said Julie’s mother, Donna Aldridge. “Keep pushing, don’t let the haters get you down and refuse to settle for anything less than your vision.”The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be televised locally on WXIA Channel 11, NBC’s Atlanta affiliate, on Thursday, Nov. 25 from 9 a.m. to noon.