The Ridgefield School of Dance extends both best wishes and congratulations to graduating Ridgefield High School seniors Mackenzie Whitelaw and Madison Rucolas and Wilton High School senior Rachel Castaldi. All three have been taking dance classes since they were toddlers and are members of the Ballet Company.

Mackenzie began dancing at age 3, and joined the studio after moving to Ridgefield at age 5. Madison has been dancing here for 15 years since age 2. Rachel started dancing when she was three and came to the studio in 6th grade. They have danced in many ballets, including classical ballets The Cinderella Ballet, Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty, selections from Les Sylphides, Paquita and Swan Lake, original ballets Alice in Wonderland, Carnival of the Animals, Madeline and the annual Nutcracker performances. All three have performed with the jazz department where Madison and Mackenzie are company members.

Madison and Mackenzie both said their favorite dance class is jazz. “It came so easy to me, and I am always so happy while in the class and performing jazz dances on stage,” said Madison. “It allows me the chance to express my personality,” she said. The intensive ballet training these dancers received here not only improved their posture and flexibility but made them stronger jazz dancers and performers overall.

Rachel’s favorite class is ballet. Mackenzie cited her dance teachers for showing them how strong they can be as dancers. “They are the kind of teachers who push us to points we didn’t think were possible.” she said.

Rachel’s favorite dance role was being the spring fairy in Cinderella while Mackenzie said hers was the Rat Queen for the fun of it but Arabian for how confident she felt while performing. Madison’s favorite role was dancing as one of the evil stepsisters with her best friend at the studio, Julia Garrett. “We were able to really test our acting abilities, and have fun with the characters,” she said.

Rachel’s most challenging role is her solo in the Grand Pas Classique of Paquita which she performed in the year end performance in May while Mackenzie said one of her most difficult roles was probably freshman year in Swan Lake. Madison said taking the lead in Paquita was challenging yet exciting.

As members of the ballet company, the dancers describe the group to be more than just dance friends but rather a second family. From her years working with the three dancers, choreographer Jessica Boelts praised their work ethic and dedication, and said she has tailored roles for each dancer to best show off their individual strengths. Executive Director Alison Brown said it has been a joy to see the girls grow up and mature as dancers and young women, noting their leadership will be missed in the dance community.

After graduation, Rachel is heading to Boston University in the College of Engineering, Mackenzie is off to the University of Alabama to major in advertising and minoring in graphic design and fashion marketing, and Madison will attend the University of Miami (Fla.) with a major in environmental studies and a minor in conservation.

Asked what they have learned from dance, Rachel said, “Dancing has taught me how to work hard within a group to make something beautiful.” Mackenzie said the large time commitment, nearly year-round, has helped her learn time management and prepare her for the future. “Being this committed to something taught me that if you love something this much it’s worth having to miss a party or two. I have my best friends at school but the girls I dance with have honestly turned into my sisters, we see each other at our best and worst and yet still love each other and I am so thankful for the studio creating such a strong family.” Madison finds dance has helped her time management skills. “Due to our very vigorous schedule, I have had to become accustomed to getting all my school work done, rather than procrastinating.

Advice to younger dancers?

“Enjoy it all because it goes by faster than you think,” Rachel said while Mackenzie challenged young dancers to persevere, even on tough days, as the rewards and sense of accomplishment are all the more satisfying. Madison’s advice to new dancers was also to enjoy all the time they have here and never give up because in the end it is so worth it. “I have made lifelong friends at this studio and basically found my second family, so I hope young dancers will experience that as well,” she said.

For more information, www.theridgefieldschoolofdance.com or 203-894-5957.