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Dancing for Rachel, and in a quest for a cure

Members of the North East Dance Academy perform

Members of the North East Dance Academy perform Saturday in memory of Rachel Antorino at Park Shore Country Day Camp in Dix Hills. Photo Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Rachel Antorino loved to listen to music and dance, her mother, Aimee, said. The girl loved Drake and Post Malone, had attended a dance studio in Commack since she was 6 years old, and once on a spur of the moment entered a dance contest at a water park.   

“She came up with a spontaneous routine and won an award,” Aimee said.

But when Rachel was 12 and a seventh-grader at Commack Middle School, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. After many chemotherapy treatments, bone marrow tests and spinal taps, Rachel died last August at age 14. 

In her daughter's honor, Aimee organized a dance extravaganza Saturday at the Park Shore Country Day Camp in Dix Hills to raise money for children with the same pediatric cancer Rachel had.

The event, which Aimee hopes to hold annually, was hosted by Rachel’s Dance for the Cure, a nonprofit organization established by Aimee two months after Rachel died.

“She was my best friend,” Antorino said. “She was the happiest, bravest, spirited person. My life and the lives of those who knew her are better because of her.”

Those who knew her all agreed — Rachel could always be seen with a smile. Her friend Christina Lopez, 15, was one of several girls at the camp who were part of the North East Dance Academy, the dance studio Rachel attended.

Lopez reminisced about practices she had with Rachel, and how they laughed when they made mistakes. “It’s upsetting she’s not here to dance with us,” Lopez said just before beginning a routine to “Tears of an Angel” — a song she and other dancers often perform to remember Rachel. 

Deana Badalato, owner of the studio, said Rachel danced tap, jazz and ballet, but her favorite was lyrical. “She would always make up her own routines at home,” Badalato said. “She loved to grand jeté; it would make her feel like she was flying.”

Badalato said that even when Rachel was sick, she would come to recitals and hang out backstage for 10 to 15 minutes — all she was allowed by doctors.

“She always encouraged the girls," Badalato said. “For a young girl at 14, she was so positive.”

Among more than 100 people on hand at the camp, which Rachel had attended starting at age 3, was her only sibling, Anthony, 12. Aimee Antorino said she is glad that her friends and family were there to support her, and to remember her daughter.

“I want Rachel to know how proud we all are of her, how her strength and bravery has inspired others, and how we are going to spend the rest of our time on earth continuing her battle and finding a cure for this horrific disease,” Antorino said. 

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