By Eddie Trizzino
Times West Virginian

Fairmont, WV (AP) – As she looks off the stage at an audience of more than 6,000 people, Sophie Silnicki keeps her mind focused on the moves.

Silnicki has been dancing since she was just 18 months old. She remembers her training in her mother’s Fairmont dance studio, Movements in Dance, as she takes the stage as a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall.

“I started dancing at my mom’s dance school,’’ Silnicki said. “When I was older, I moved to San Francisco and trained at San Francisco Ballet School, so it’s been a long road of hard work that finally paid off to get this job, which is wonderful.’’

After a period of grueling auditions beginning in April where the dancer’s skills were put to the test, Silnicki earned her spot on the Rockettes this summer. She now performs up to 16 shows a week, rehearsing for up to six hours a day, six days a week in one of the biggest venues in the world.

“I first saw the show when I was 3 years old in New York City at Radio City Music Hall, and it was always a dream of mine to be a Rockette,’’ she said. “When I was 11 and 12 years old, I was actually in a touring production of the Christmas Spectacular; I played the role of Clara.

“Looking up to them, I always knew that it was a lifelong dream.’’

Luckily, aside from her talents in dance and her experience in performing, Silnicki also fit the other provisions needed to be fit to be a Rockette, including the height requirement of 5-foot-6-inches to 5-foot-10-inches, which is the stature shared by the entire squad.

“You have to be proficient in ballet, tap and jazz,’’ Silnicki said. “I would be at the studio from afternoon until night training constantly, and then I went to the Ballet Theatre School and San Francisco Ballet, so it was a lot of ballet, which is really important to improve your technique and become a strong, well-rounded dancer.’’

When she is not performing, Silnicki is still not completely away from her role as a Rockette. Her last day off was spent visiting patients in a local hospital.

“I traveled to New Jersey and went into a children’s hospital as a Radio City Rockette,’’ she said. “That’s another benefit of Rockettes: we can spread joy to people who may not even be able to come to the Christmas Spectacular.’’

Silnicki’s mother has seen her perform countless times, traveling to the music hall to watch the show with some of her students.

“My mother’s dance school last weekend just brought a whole busload of her dance students and families to come to the show,’’ Silnicki said. “It was so wonderful to be performing on-stage knowing I had my friends and family watching.’’

Right now, the Rockettes are playing performances of the annual Christmas Spectacular show, which is running until Jan. 1. Silnicki’s favorite number of this show is “New York at Christmas,’’ saying she enjoys the production which sees the Rockettes board a double-decker sightseeing bus on stage, which tours around the city before finishing in Times Square with a red and green performance.

Although life and work as a Rockette involve long hours of performance and even more hours of practice and rehearsal, Silnicki has been enjoying the act, and hopes to continue for the foreseeable future. She recalled her young aspirations as a growing dancer, and hopes to encourage others to chase their dreams.

“There is definitely hard times in dance that you go through,’’ Silnicki said. “My mom always encouraged me to never, never give up on your dream, because sometimes they’re not always going to come true, but if you continue to work hard and train and never lose sight of what you want, your hopes will come true as they did for me.’’

When watching the show, Silnicki said to look out for her during probably the most iconic staple of the show: the kick line. At the show-stopping commencement of the famous Rockettes kick line, Silnicki will be the seventh from the right.

“In the kick line, I’m seventh from the end on stage right, so that’s how you could always find me,’’ Silnicki said. “I really want to encourage anyone in the Fairmont area, if they are coming to New York City this Christmas time for any reason, to definitely come to Radio City to see the show, it’s wonderful.’’

Sophie, second from right, with her fellow Rockettes