Just imagine, standing on stage in front of six thousand people at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. You are side by side with 30 something other women all dressed like you, around the same height as you, wearing the same makeup as you and most importantly, have the same love for dance as you do. You are a Radio City Rockette – part of one of the most prestigious and well-known dance companies in the world. The curtain comes up, the music begins and you start to move your feet to the beat of Christmas music that has been repeatedly playing in your head for thousands of hours since the beginning of October. This is the life. But, unfortunately, it’s not mine.
Aside from the fact that I have competitively danced throughout my childhood, adolescence and at the beginning stages of my adult years and just for fun while journeying through my college days, the thought of becoming a Rockette has crossed my mind a few times. The glam of it all, really, is the thing I love most. Not only that but these women get to do what they love every day and also get in a killer work out without even thinking about it. Oh yeah, and they eat pizza and donuts whenever they want.
So, after years of my family members telling me I “missed my calling” and should have become a dancer instead of a writer, I decided to get back out there. I became a Radio City Rockette for a day – or more like an hour. BUT STILL, I was able to experience what this kind of life this would be like.
I was scheduled to participate in a dance class with two real live Rockettes. (If you couldn’t hear me internally screaming, believe me, I was.) As I sat waiting in the chairs of a large dance studio with mirrors lining the front wall, I wondered what they would be like. Would they be in costume? Would they be tall? Would they be in full-on makeup? Would they forgive my rusty dance skills compared to their fine-tuned high kicks? Finally, I ran out of time to think and they walked in just as I had imagined – only without the costumes.
The warm-up brought me way back to my dance classes in high school. I was ready for this day. As weird as it sounds, I was so excited to be in front of a wall of mirrors again. It’s a comfort thing. Side note: when I danced competitively, I remember sitting down stretching in my studio with my best friend waiting for practice to start. We were talking to each other but both of us were facing the mirror. We weren’t even looking at each other directly but talking to each other while looking straight ahead. So, if you’ve ever danced, you’ll know, the mirrors really are a comfort thing. I never realized how much I missed them until my day with the Rockettes.
After the warm-up, we started to learn a few parts of the dances that the Rockettes perform at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show that is put on each year during the holiday season. This included their infamous kickline. We learned that even though it looks like they are linking arms and touching each other’s backs, it’s all an illusion. No one ever touches anyone. Their hands are always just slightly away from the next girl’s back. The Rockettes told us that after a full day of shows – usually, it’s around four – they do 12,000 high kicks altogether. During the class, I did maybe 100 and just that exhausted me. (No, really, I woke up the next day and the back of my legs were sore. I need the gym.)
I learned that it takes a lot to do what these women do every single day. As I suspected, one of the Rockettes said that they have all danced in some form for their entire lives. “We’ve all trained our whole lives to get here and it’s intense and it’s very athletic now, too. We have to stay in shape in off-season and be prepared and it definitely takes a lot of training.”
The Rockettes perform at other venues too besides Radio City. From Dancing With the Stars to the Macy’s Day Parade to The Ellen Degeneres Show, they aren’t ever really bored. After our class they answered some our burning questions like, what happens if a shoe breaks? Oddly, there is more than one answer!
Watch the video and check out an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the Radio City Rockettes dance class!
“Smile big. It kind of depends on how it happens because if it’s at a point where it’s going to fly into the audience, it’s important to try to avoid that because it could hurt someone. It depends on the situation. We used to have these tap mics that clipped onto your shoe. Sometimes with the choreography, someone would step on your shoe and pull it part of the way off. So, as you’re kicking it starts to slide, but it’s attached to your foot by the mic. So, it starts flopping around. That’s one of the circumstances where you try to keep it on, because if it flew, it’d be not very comfortable for the person who gets hit.”
The Rockettes even let us in on a little secret – their fastest costume change is 70 seconds. 70 SECONDS. So, basically, they have one minute to go “from soldiers to socks, shoes, pants, a jacket, cheeks, and a hat to this number, ‘New York at Christmas’ which is new shoes, a dress, a jacket, gloves, earrings, a headpiece.” Just thinking about that will make anyone dizzy.
They continued, “That’s from when the solider number ends. The stage goes black, we quickly do an unzip of our friends and we get up and we mad dash for the wings. So, within that 70 seconds, it’s like running in the dark, finding your new costumes.” But, being a Rockette is an age-old tradition – since the beginning of the 1900s to be exact. And after all of the choreography these women have to learn, the hours of practice, the makeup (they do their own), the costume changes, the traveling and the shows, there is one thing in particular that they love about what they do. And that is the connection and bond they have with every other Rockette who have come before them and will come after them.
They said, “I was saying earlier in the class that one of my favorite parts about being a Rockette is that every Rockette before us has done that and all those soldier steps. It’s been in the Christmas Spectacular since 1933. Every Rockette after us is gonna do that and I think that’s such a cool thing to be a part of.”
As my day in the life of being a Rockette came to a close, I got a real sense of what the job takes. I now understand the commitment and the responsibility this job forces you to take on. I now get why they practice six days a week for 10 hours a day. I understand how over 30 women on the same stage can look and sound exactly the same. It’s amazingly fun but it’s also a job. I think I’ll just stick to writing – for now.