By Walter Rutledge
The Frank Sinatra classic New York New York declares “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. For a brother and sister their dreams of dancing on stage at the legendary Apollo Theater are about to come true. Jelani and Arnese Britton (who reside in the Bronx) will get a chance to strut their stuff tonight at Amateur Night At The Apollo.
Jelani (age 24) and Arnese (15) have a special big brother little sister bond. The self-trained duo rehearse their routine in Jelani’s living room. His apartment provides them unlimited rehearsal hours, but lacks the space and mirrors that would help hone the dance.
The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center Genex Program provided Jelani and Arnese studio time and an advisor for professional feedback. “Its been our mission for almost 40 years to assist new and emerging dancers, choreographers and dance companies”, says Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center Executive Chairman Alex Smith Jr. “Our Genex Program is designed to offer young artists one-on-one assistance and technical support.”
You could see the excitement on the dancer’s faces as they began rehearsing at DANY Studios on 38th Street in Manhattan. “This was our first time ever working in a real studio”, Jelani explained. “We were able to get a feel for dancing in a big space with mirrors. It is something I’ll never forget.”
Jelani, the choreographer, has wanted to one day dance on the Apollo stage for as long as he can remember. His sister Arnese dances at church and at school, but this is the first time on a public stage. “I can’t wait to dance at the Apollo, I’m a little nervous; but I know it’s a once in a lifetime experience and I want to have fun”, says Arnese.
The Apollo amateur night is the oldest continuous talent shows in the world. Ella Fitzgerald won the first Amateur Night in 1934, and received a prize of $25 and work for one week. The list of other Amateur Night winners include Billie Holiday, the Isley Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, and the Jackson 5.
The selection process for the The 81-year-old Amateur Night hasn’t changed, participants from all disciplines audition for chance to perform. Amateur Night At The Apollo remains an incubator for talent, and is also one of New York City’s most acclaimed live performances. The world-renowned weekly performances attract an international audience, who can either make or break a performer.
Jelani and Arnese hope to go to the next round and eventually win the Amateur Night competition. They are all ready winners for having the courage to turn their dreams into reality. Whatever the outcome they are performing tonight on the stage “Where stars are born and legends are made.”
For tickets for Amateur Night At The Apollo at $21, $27, $33 and are available in person at the Apollo Theater Box Office, online at Ticketmaster.com, and by calling Ticketmaster (800) 745-3000, for Groups Call (212) 531-5355.