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Behind the scenes of Radio City Rockettes: how dancers prepare for the iconic New York show

'13.12.2023'

Alina Prikhodko

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On stage at Radio City Music Hall, the dancers dazzle with their high legs, sparkling costumes and enthusiastic Christmas spirit. Their legs rise and fall in unison - amazing teamwork, coordination, balance and synchronicity.

Rossilynn Skena Kalgan, Editor of Things to Do Time-out got behind the scenes with the “rocket” and learned about the tricks and magic of the show. The following is a first-person account.

I attended a show this winter and came away mesmerized by the artistry of the dancers and amazed by questions about how exactly they were able to perform this exact number night after night. I didn’t expect to get answers to these questions until an email appeared in my inbox with the subject line: “You’re invited: Rocket Dance Class.” I grabbed this chance and went to class.

Julia and Maya taught the class, which I attended along with a dozen other journalists. During the 45-minute class, the dancers very patiently taught us movements from the cult productions “New York at Christmas” and “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”. They both commanded the hall with purposeful movements and powerful energy.

Both of our teachers have extensive experience. They dance and have long admired the Rockets. Julia was teased as a child for being tall. “I remember thinking, 'I'm not sure they're making fun of the Rockets. They are tall and they are allowed to be tall.” And I loved seeing them in the parade every year,” she says.

On the subject: Fun and Healthy: The Best Dance Studios in New York

Maya was a competitive dance dancer as a child and then fell in love with the show while performing as a “rocket” at the Alvin Ailey seminars she attended. They have both been performing on the show for three years now and were happy to pass on some of their charisma and professionalism to us. Here's what I found out.

1. There are several types of signature leg swings.

Queens of the shot, the Rockets boast more than one type of shot. We studied two types: strut kick - this is a blow with a bent knee, and eye-high kick means that the leg rises to the height of the eye. These are the iconic shots the Rockets are known for.

They perform over 160 kicks per show, that's up to 650 kicks in one day.

2. The show is an optical illusion.

While watching the show, it seems that all the girls are the same height, but this is just a visual illusion. The height of the dancers can vary from 177 centimeters to 191. They line up on stage with the tallest performer in the center and then gradually work their way down to the shortest performer at each end. This creates an optical illusion for viewers.

3. “Rockets” follow the acts on stage

Once the dancers are lined up in height order, they are assigned a specific number to indicate their place in the line. This number stays with them throughout the season and helps them navigate. The numbers printed on the stage indicate exactly where they should be. The stage is marked with different numbers and multi-colored lines, with the help of which the dancers line up.

4. Dancers do not touch each other's backs

During the kickline, the dancers appear to be holding each other's hands. In fact, they try not to touch each other so as not to create additional weight for the other dancers. They keep their hands neatly behind each other's backs, which requires some serious arm strength.

5. Changing costumes requires precision.

From sparkly leotards to tin soldier costumes and Santa Claus costumes, the dancers wear a variety of outfits during the show and sometimes only have a few seconds to get it all done. For example, according to Julia, they have only 78 seconds to change from a green and red dress with frills to sharp toy soldier costumes. The wardrobe team helps the dancers quickly change clothes backstage.

“The change from 'New York at Christmas' to 'The Wooden Soldiers' takes 78 seconds, and we have to change all the way down to the gloves,” she says. – For me it’s really choreography to music. I know that the word “best” means the dress should be in my hands. When I hear the word “subway” I know I have to wear gloves.”

6. Room with wooden soldiers

Every dancer who has participated in the show since 1933 performed the iconic “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” routine. This has been a beloved tradition since the beginning. Fun fact: the “blush” on the cheeks during this act is actually red stickers.

7. Two compositions

Every year, 84 “rockets” take part in the show - 36 in one group and 36 in another, plus six substitutes in each group. The morning and evening lineups usually alternate, but sometimes the dancers perform four times a day. To qualify for the show, dancers must re-audition every year.

8. Intense workouts

The dancers rehearse six hours a day, six days a week, for six weeks leading up to the holiday season. My legs were really sore after a measly 45-minute session, so I can't imagine the toll the rehearsal process takes on my muscles.

“We have such a phenomenal rehearsal process that it’s really muscle memory,” Julia says.

9. They dance all year round

Even if they don't dance at Radio City year-round, these artists constantly dance and train in the off-season to be in tip-top shape for auditions.

10. They are fueled by the public.

The dancers say they enjoy seeing the audience's reaction. “The audience feedback really fuels us, especially on a day of four shows. It’s such a palpable energy that we share with the audience and it really pushes you through the challenges,” says Julia.

Maya celebrates the "Ragdoll" number, in which they wear green dresses, striped tights and orange wigs. This always causes a strong reaction from the public. “We come out of the hole and see kids everywhere and their eyes light up,” she says. - That’s it, that’s what it all started for. These moments when we see the fans in the audience in all their glory are very exciting.”

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