“The Radio City Christmas
4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, Dec. 17-18
Alltel Arena, $25-$59
Nothing says Christmas like the pitter-patter of little tap shoes on cold asphalt. That was the sound resonating from the parking lot of Joel’s House of Dance last Thursday as a group of young dancers, ages 6 to 8, eagerly awaited the arrival of the legendary Rockettes, in town in advance of their four “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” shows, on Dec. 17 and 18 at Alltel. Throngs of parents armed with video cameras and girls in black leotards cheered at the first sighting of the Rockette’s caravan, which consisted of a black stretch limo and Cadillac Escalade.
“They’re here!” someone shouted as four lean dancers climbed out of the limo wearing black jazz pants and T-shirts bearing the Rockettes’ logo in gold glitter. After greeting the crowd, they asked, “Do you ladies want to see some Rockettes in costume?” The ladies yelled an emphatic “Yes!” in unison as a beige dance shoe and long nylon-clad leg appeared from behind the door of the Escalade. As the two costumed Rockettes emerged into the winter afternoon, they literally bedazzled the crowd, their sequined outfits and snowflake crowns glinting in the light. An audible “Oh!” arose from the group.
The girls surrounded them, hugging their slender waists and admiring their headdresses and jackets, trimmed in white (faux) fur. Something of a cross between beauty queen and princess, each Rockette was pretty, trim, and poised with a flashing smile as bright as their sequins. (The smile, as well as the fancy footwork, is a Rockette requirement.)
The six dancers went on to instruct 19 young students in the ways of the Rockettes, famous strut kicks and all. (Two Rockette rules: always, always count your kicks and raise your leg to waist height.) They walked, or rather marched, the girls through the famous “Dance of the Wooden Soldier,” which has been danced by every Rockette since 1933. “You’re very proud toy soldiers!” yelled a dark-haired dancer over the spirited music. After the girls worked for an hour on their straight-line formations, we all left with an appreciation of just how much hard work (and of course talent) goes into being a Rockette.
To prepare for the Christmas show, the dancers rehearse a grueling six days a week for 7 to 10 hours a day. There are 32,000 kicks in the Christmas season alone, and that’s just in the shows themselves. That’s 300 kicks per show if you’re counting, kicks so quick and precise that a well-placed one is probably lethal. As the fresh-faced, red-headed Rockette reminded the crowd, “Really, we’re athletes in 3-inch heels!” No kidding. (I later sustained a minor knee injury just trying a few strut kicks in front of the mirror at home.) Another impressive fact: In the “Christmas Spectacular,” in which 24 Rockettes appear, there are eight costume changes per show and less than 78 seconds to make them. There are also “flying sequences.”
In addition to dishing on choreography, the visiting Rockettes also shared some of the troupe’s history and their own personal experiences of being part of such a legendary sisterhood. The Rockettes come from all parts of the country, and there are currently 186 worldwide; over 2,000 women have been Rockettes since the group’s founding They also discussed some of the prerequisites: Rockettes must be proficient in all forms of dance, must be at least 18 years old and between 5 foot 6 inches tall and 5 foot 10. This last one dashed some of our spirits (and evoked a flood of memories of being turned away from rides at the state fair). But the Rockettes were there to inspire; they encouraged us to follow our dreams and reminded us that if you believe in yourself anything is possible (unless, that is, you want to be a Rockette, but are 5’3” and approaching 40).
Asked what she thought of their visit, 8-year-old dance student Katie Strickland, a sweet spray of freckles dancing across her face, said, “It was really exciting.” Around her neck, she proudly wore one of the red fleece scarves the Rockettes gave all the girls at the end of the class.
Taking in the room, director Joel Ruminer looked like a proud parent and revealed that over the years three of his students have gone on to become Rockettes, the last almost 20 years ago. “That’s pretty good,” he said smiling. Judging by the enthusiasm in the crowd, more might follow in their (carefully synchronized) footsteps.