As a girl, Bonnie Dixon had a dream. The lifelong dancer wanted to be a New York City Music Hall Rockette.
“But when I was in the fourth grade, I hit 5 feet 2 inches [tall] and I’ve stayed there ever since,” Dixon said. “Of course, I was too short to be a Rockette, so I changed my dream to be a dancer for Disney.
“Disney likes short people,” she joked.
Dixon spent her childhood and teenage years studying and performing with Dancentre South in Woodstock.
After graduating from Forsyth Central High School in 1999, Dixon continued her study of dance at Georgia Southern University.
She then came home and taught at a few local dance studios, also serving about four years as the Otwell Middle School cheerleading coach.
But she wasn’t satisfied. Her dream of being a Disney dancer sat unfulfilled.
“I kept thinking about the Disney saying that says all dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them,” Dixon said. “I knew I hadn’t pursued this dream to the best of my ability.”
So on July 23, 2006, the then 25-year-old Dixon and her mother drove to Orlando, Fla., for a dance audition. It was the longest and toughest tryout of her life.
“There were 300 or 400 people there for two spots,” she said. “It took eight and a half hours, but in the end they picked me and one other girl from Texas.”
Appropriately enough, Dixon was cast as part of Disney’s Year of a Million Dreams campaign, which began in October 2006 and was eventually extended through December 2008.
She was cast as “Cowgirl 2” in the Woody’s Cowboy Camp show, based on the popular “Toy Story” movie series.
Dixon said the show took place in the Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland. It featured songs, dance routines and activities to “let kids live their dream of being a cowboy or cowgirl like [the movie characters] Woody and Jesse.”
During the holiday season, Dixon also performed as an elf in Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parade.
“I was a candy factory elf in Goofy’s entourage,” she said.
She also appeared in shows based on the movie “High School Musical” and in Disney’s Dream Come True Parade.
The hours as a Disney dancer were long and hard, but always fun.
“We’d do six performances of Woody’s Cowboy Camp every day and then two parades at night,” she said. “Sometimes we’d have new shows to rehearse, so we would have to wait until the park closed at midnight for that and then be up at 7 a.m. to it all over again. There were times when I definitely didn’t get much sleep.
“But it was by far the best job I’ve ever had. I’d get my paycheck and by like, ‘Oh yeah, I get paid to do this.’”
Dixon said some of her favorite times were when the park would play host to Make Wish Foundation children.
The organization grants wishes to terminally ill children. She said seeing children battling cancer and other diseases was “truly humbling.”
“I think God sent those times to me to remind me, ‘Hey, look at how blessed you are to do what you love and have always wanted to do, when this little girl might not even see her eighth birthday,’” Dixon said.
Her most memorable moment of the experience, though, came early one morning while preparing for a show.
“I was sitting on Main Street USA and I turned and looked over my shoulder at Cinderella’s Castle and the sun was just coming up over the castle,” she said. “I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s something that the public never gets to see and I’m seeing it.’”
Dixon spent a year as a full-time dancer at the park before her “body started giving out.” She was also offered a position as a middle school English teacher.
She returned to Cumming in 2009, working as a dance instructor at Dancentre South.
And she still continues to work as a Disney dancer seasonally. Every year since she has left, typically for a week in the fall and spring, she returns to the theme park to dance wherever needed.
Now Dixon is embarking on what she calls the “second greatest dream” of her life as she opens a dance studio with longtime friend fellow Dancentre South alumnus Amanda Shih.
Dixon said she always wanted to run her own studio, but decided to seriously pursue that dream about a year ago when she and husband Kevin welcomed their son, Zach.
“When I looked at him, I knew I couldn’t tell him to always follow his dreams if I didn’t follow all of mine,” Dixon said. “So I went to Amanda and said, ‘We’re definitely doing this now.’”
Their studio, Dance inFusion Georgia, will open Sept. 19.
“We went with the name inFusion because we want to infuse our students with much more than just dance,” Dixon said. “We want to teach them about having strong character traits like loyalty and trust, and not to be afraid to pursue their dreams.
“A lot of what Disney is about is what we want our studio to be about. So, in a way, we want to bring a little Disney to Cumming.”