Last Updated: Dec 19, 2019
At some point in their lives, every aspiring dancer dreams of becoming a Radio City Rockette, or being just like one. Whether she finds herself trying to get her kicks as high as she can or trying to perfect the art of singing while tap dancing, it is a dancer's dream and honor to get up on the stage and call themselves a Rockette. And as I watched the captivating performance of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, I remembered why I love dance so much in the first place. The costumes, the music, the lights, and most of all—performing.
A little bit of history…
Formerly known as the “Missouri Rockets” in 1925, the Rockettes made their first appearance in St. Louis with the help of their creator Russell Markert. After seeing the John Tiller girls in Ziegfeld Follies of 1922, Markert was inspired to form a group of American girls that could kick high, tap dance, and sing. He was convinced they could become a great attraction at any show. Years later, it turned out he was right.
On opening night of the Radio City Music Hall in 1932, the Rockettes—given the name “Roxyettes” at the time—performed on stage along with 17 other acts. As expected, the Rockettes were a big hit! At that moment in time, Markert had realized he had created the American chorus line—an entertaining precision team. The team that once had just 16 women has now transformed into a 36-member kick line team.
On top of four shows a day, 28 shows a week, 365 days of the year at Radio City Music Hall, the Rockettes have also performed in USO tours during WWII, the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Rockettes were becoming a popular attraction, but in 1978 the Radio City Music Hall almost saw its last kick line and sparkly costume. Due to rapidly declining business, there was discussion of closing it for good. Most people were in an uproar, and fortunately, the hall was saved at the last minute by the state of New York. The annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular show is seen by 2.1 million people a year—more than any other live show in America! And to think they were going to put an end to such a national treasure.
The audition process
From San Francisco to Boston, women travel from all over the United States to pursue the opportunity to become a Rockette. But every year, only a handful of dreams come true. Believe it or not, it takes a lot more than some high kicks and smiles to make it onto that stage.
Auditions for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular are held each spring in New York City. It is an open-call process—meaning anyone can show up and audition—and it takes two full days. The women are taught a very basic combination at first, but they are expected to learn it very quickly and pick up every little detail. After very little time to perfect it, the women are divided into groups of three to perform the combination. Once everyone has shown their abilities, cuts are made, and the remaining women learn a more difficult combination, usually a tap routine. After everyone has performed, more cuts are made, and the few lucky women left standing return the next day for more choreography.
What are they looking for?
For starters, all performers must be at least 18 years old, between 5'6" and 5'10 1/2" tall, and highly skilled in jazz and tap dancing. In the first round of choreography, the director is simply looking for basic technique. As more cuts are made, tap abilities and kicks become an important factor as well. The director’s eye immediately gravitates to the women who can learn material quickly and have shining personalities while performing. For any performer, passion is contagious, and you want the audience to feel what you feel while you are on stage. It is not any different for a Rockette—if anything you must have the ability to perform and show that you love what you do. Confidence is also a key quality to have as a performer. As long as you relax, smile, and remember why you are there, the choreographers may give you a shot.
You made it—now what?
Being a Rockette may seem like it’s all about sparkly costumes and fun performances, but there is a lot of hard work that comes with the name. There is a reason why the Rockettes are as good as they are and dance in such unison—practice, practice, practice. The Rockettes rehearse six days a week from 10 am–5 pm, usually from September to November, in preparation for the well-known Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Rehearsals are known to be physically demanding and require excellent athletic ability. Most days the dancers will need to bring their strength and stamina to rehearsal in order to keep up with all the jumping, turning, and squatting in their routines. The women find that they are exhausted at the end of each rehearsal, just to do it all again the next day. But in a dancer’s world, becoming a Rockette is a huge accomplishment, so putting on a costume and being a part of that signature kick line is well worth all the hard work in the end.
Want to see photos, watch videos, and learn how you can take classes with the Rockettes? Visit rockettes.com!