BROOKSVILLE — When a 6-year-old Amber Toye first saw the Rockettes kicking up their glorious gams, she turned to her mother and made a declaration.
"Mom, that's what I want to be," she said.
But when her last growth spurt came and went, she realized that 2 inches separated her from the dream. Toye, 18, is 5 feet, 4 1/2 inches tall. The minimum height for a Rockette is 5 feet, 6 1/2 inches.
But Toye is still on track to make a living moving to music — and will get her start here in the Sunshine State.
Toye, who graduates tonight with Nature Coast Technical High School's Class of 2009, will head north in the fall to study dance at Florida State University.
The FSU dance program is considered one of the best in the country. Admission is competitive.
Toye thinks the essay with her application, in which she shared why she's so motivated to dance, probably helped make the difference.
The gist of the essay, she recalled in an interview a few days before commencement: "I think it's beyond beautiful that you can take any emotion, whether it's sad, angry or happy, and turn it into movements that create a beautiful story," she said. "To bring people to tears with that story, that's just the best feeling in the world to me."
Toye's high school story is one of quiet success, said Nature Coast principal Tizzy Schoelles.
"She's a real leader, but kind of an unsung hero," Schoelles said. "I think she represents the bread and butter of the average student at Nature Coast."
Well, not exactly average.
Toye has served as vice president of her class for the last two years. She was also secretary of the Student Government Association for the last two years. Her unweighted grade-point average is 3.4, and she's in the top 20 percent of her class of about 350. She was voted homecoming queen this year.
But some of her fondest memories were made on the Nature Coast football field and basketball court, where she helped lead the Nature Coast dance team during every home game.
As a freshman and sophomore, Toye tried with a few other girls to start the team at Nature Coast. She had performed often on the stage at the Show Palace Dinner Theater in Hudson — her most memorable role as Natalie in a musical version of Miracle on 34th Street — but she yearned for a way to show her school pride.
By her junior year, the dance team came to fruition. And Toye served as captain this year.
"I'd done so much out of school, it was great to do something in school, as well," she said.
Toye is a natural, approachable leader, said Rachel Liggett, sponsor for the dance team.
"She's a really good girl," Liggett said. "Very caring and a great dancer. It's what she does."
Toye, the daughter of Eddie and Gina Toye, says she gets creative inspiration from her father and brother.
Eddie is a guitar player and vocalist for a Paul McCartney/Beatles tribute band called Live and Let Die.
Her brother, Teddy, a 2007 Nature Coast alumnus, is currently performing in an off-Broadway series of children's plays.
Whether or not stardom comes, Toye said she won't forget where she came from.
"This has been my home," she said. "I will always be a (Nature Coast) Shark at heart."
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.