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A & E

Plainfield Dance Academy 9-year-old to play Clara in 'The Nutcracker'

Joliet 9-year-old to portray Clara in ‘The Nutcracker’

JOLIET – Miniya Thompson of Joliet feels black girls are often afraid to dream big dreams because they’re afraid they won’t succeed.

It’s a bold statement from a girl who won’t turn 10 until January. But Miniya, who will play Clara in Wheatland Dance Theater’s production of “The Nutcracker,” has bold ambitions, which she hopes will inspire other girls.

“If you work hard and keep your head straight, you never know what will come your way,” said Miniya, who plans to be a professional ballet dancer. “People will notice that you have passion and commitment.”

In fact, Miniya – who studies at Plainfield Dance Academy – wishes more black girls would veer toward ballet instead of hip-hop.

“I think anyone can jump around,” Miniya said, “but not everyone can understand ballet until they’ve done it.”

She wants to study dance in Paris or at Juilliard in New York, said Miniya’s mother, Valynda Gildon, of Joliet. Gildon said she and Miniya’s father, Greg Thompson, of Joliet are confident Miniya will do just that.

“Miniya has always been a hard worker,” Gildon said. “If she can’t get it, she tries harder.”

Corinne Emmenegger, owner of Plainfield Dance Academy and artistic director of Wheatland Dance Theater, said in the 18 months since Miniya came to her studio, Miniya has rapidly advanced in dance technique, one of the reasons Emmenegger chose Miniya for the role of Clara, Emmenegger said.

“Most kids her age are very afraid to go full out and act, especially in a dance environment, but she has no fear in acting and playing,” Emmenegger said. “She brightens and lightens everything up.”

Emmenegger has no doubt that Miniya will meet her goals.

“You can tell which kids are really determined,” Emmenegger said. “She is one of them.”

Gildon said Miniya typically works in the studio three times a week, but that has increased to five times with “The Nutcracker” practices. However, Miniya still finds time to read (“She has over 150 titles in her bookcase,” Gildon said) and study classical piano with Randi Mitchell, who teaches private lessons in the Joliet area.

Mitchell said Miniya is a sweet girl who works hard and has rapidly progressed in proficiency during the three years she has taken lessons.

“She is a quick learner,” Mitchell said. “She moves along quickly from one level to another.”

Although Miniya loves piano, she loves dancing more. It makes her feel free, she said.

“In piano, you just sit down and play music. It sounds beautiful,” Miniya said. “But with dance, you listen for beautiful music and then you dance to it by making your body move and expressing the story.”

Gildon isn’t surprised that Miniya wants to use her successes to motivate other girls. Even in kindergarten, Miniya looked out for and supported her peers. Gildon recalled one classmate with spina bifida. All the children treated her with kindness, until recess.

“The teacher told me that no one wanted to wait for the girl with spina bifida. They just went out and played,” Gildon said. “Miniya always waited for her.”

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