‘Tis The Season To Be A Rockette: Part 2
By Jill Wolins
One moment that only Rockettes can say they have experienced is the moment they first perform kicks in the line before an audience. The audience goes crazy! It is such an ecstatic feeling: knowing that you as an individual contribute as part of a team to create something so grand that no one person alone can create. It is such a rush!
A dream Rockette schedule would include eight performances a week, similar to a typical Broadway show schedule. But for the Rox, the Holiday Season only comes once a year. There is a limited amount of time to spread that Christmas Cheer! Although they typically begin rehearsals somewhere close to late September, the performances start in early November and can continue into January. The Christmas Spectacular schedule is so demanding that the production requires two complete separate casts. The Blue and Gold casts.
Although the schedule varies slightly from year to year, I have done up to six shows a day. And that is not the hard part.
It was the four shows the next day that was harder on the bod. And then the three shows that followed the four show day. I remember my good friend Purdie had a birthday on a six-show day. Kandice and I would shout “Happy Birthday!” during the big kick line that closed the first act. By the end of the day, we were shouting, “it’s STILL your birthday???”
The show schedule can be demanding, and especially if you are a Rockette performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I have experienced numerous management methods for choosing Rox for this event. Sometimes it was a sign-up, sometimes an audition, sometimes, based on Macy’s street rehearsal schedule, either the Blue or Gold cast would be chosen. Some years we would learn new choreography, and some years we would perform routines seen in The Christmas Spectacular.
Either way, it is demanding because of the extra physical work in addition to the established workload, and is also a lot of pressure to perform precision dance on live television! One must crank up the concentration level into high gear! Not only are the ladies dancing on the street, but they are surrounded by street distractions including noise, camera equipment, crowds, and the characters and clowns that follow the Rockettes in the street parade. I remember one beloved director, John Dietrich, reminding us to be ready for everything, including low flying birds. Apparently, he had seen it all as he worked closely with the Macy’s crew for years. What a relief to finish that event! It is a great honor, and everyone feels so proud when it goes well.
With a demanding schedule, little time off, and lots of accumulative aches and pains, the Rockettes rely heavily on their physical therapy department.
I am personally so very proud of Elaine Winslow, the forerunner of this program. She danced on the line for years, and at the same time was putting herself through school with the goal to establish a full-service physical therapy department at the Music Hall.
Because she knew the demands of the job, she was able to custom create a program to not only treat but prevent injuries. It is fair to say that most Rockettes depend on the ice baths to reduce inflammation of their legs and feet. After rehearsals and shows, we would literally run to submerge our bodies from the waist down in giant ice bathtubs. Is it ridiculous and freezing? Yes. Are they hugely helpful and make it possible to go on day after day? Yes. Hail to the Radio City PT department! Lifesavers! Show savers! Hip, knee and ankle savers!
Now that we have covered much about the show, I would be remiss to not discuss the ladies. The beautiful, talented, smart, hardworking and funny-as-hell ladies. We all come from different backgrounds: some are modern and contemporary dancers with full resumés, some are former ballerinas, some come from the musical theater world and also do Broadway shows. I have known ladies to attend medical and law school after being Rockettes.
With all of these different backgrounds, we unite.
Obviously, not every Rockette is going to be your best friend, but there is a tremendous amount of mutual respect. I spent a majority of my time with tall ladies, as I stood toward the center of the line. We link our arms together, we “soldier fall” on top of one another, we exit the stage and change our costumes together. Many hours are spent together. And, of course, the dressing room shenanigans. The ladies I have spent my days with at the musical hall are undoubtedly the funniest group of people I will ever meet. I had no idea when I looked around the room on the first day of orientation that I was looking at young ladies who would eventually be there for one another throughout our lives. Parties and baby showers, marriages and divorces, births and deaths. The best of friends through the good times and the bad.
The gig that at one time was about status, prestige, legacy, and great health insurance became so much more. Being a Rockette was just the beginning, we laugh together, we cry together and I now have crazy amazing lifetime friends.
Return to ‘Tis The Season To Be A Rockette: Part 1
Also by Jill Wolins
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