What a DREAM -- to be one of those perfect looking girls in the line, doing that step-kick-step -- doing it perfectly -- exactly as high as the other girls do.
If that dream hits you when you're little ... beware -- it's a snowball rolling down a hill that gets bigger and bigger. But sometimes, Mother Nature, with her sunshine, melts away what you think you want.
Before you can try to be a Rockette, you will study tap, ballet, acrobatics, jazz, and hip-hop -- that can take five, more likely ten years. It's like ... well, nothing else ... It's a huge commitment, like being a nun -- full time, night and day, you are devoted to improving your dance skills.
How do you feel while you're learning footwork, kicks, pirouettes, jumps and leaps, and stretching to make your body more limber -- you feel great.
Simple things become profound. You learn to be an imitator -- how to glance at a combination of steps in any style, and be able to perform it immediately, with your feet, legs, arms, hands, and head, exactly the way it's demonstrated.
You become an expert -- you learn how to fix your hair, so that no matter how much you bend or shake your head, it won't get straggly -- you study what to wear for a dance class that makes you appear slender with long legs -- you test and find out what color, size and type of dance-slippers make your feet look pointy, articulate.
You endure discomforts -- the right slippers can hurt your feet; French cut leotards (body suits or panties), need constant tending so that your buttocks aren't exposed. You spy on what older dancers do, and experiment with brassieres, and leg tights -- it's fret, fuss, finagle every day. The mirror-mirror-on-the-wall is your friend and enemy.
Of course you watch your weight, and memorize the calorie and carbohydrates numbers of your favorite foods. You don't indulge in candy, ice cream, cake, cookies, MacDonald's burgers, or any of the usual take-out foods.
Of course, you work on your personality. You're friendly with other girls because they can help you; you learn to handle competition -- even if you're shy or modest, you're able to change clothes with other girls ogling you out of the corner of their eyes. It's not easy, but you learn to look happy, or confident (even when you're not), whenever you're dancing. Dancers, like models, actresses and singers, deal with envy, and jealousy on a daily basis.
To audition for a job as a Rockette, Radio City's Personnel Department says you must be 18, a high school graduate, and between 5'6" and 5'10½ tall. Radio city has 80 Rockettes, eight shows a day, two teams of 40 dancers. Alternating, each team does four shows. If you get the job, you rehearse every day with union regulated hours and breaks for food and bathroom. Yes, you're like a nun -- it's a full time job, with little or no time for anything else, like dating or having a love life.
Of course, while you're transforming yourself into a dancer, you find out about other jobs. Being a corps de ballet dancer, or a chorus girl in a show, are other goals to pursue, but Rockette -- well, it's got status -- people have seen those photos of girls in a line -- they are world famous.
Yes, it's a lot of years to invest, a lot of grim, hard work that isn't fun, but gee, if you actually get to be a Rockette, you grin and bear it.
Truth: I never dreamed of being a Rockette. I didn't want to dance in a line of girls, wear the same costume they were wearing, and look or be like them. I wanted to be me, dancing what I felt. I wanted to be a soloist alone on the stage, or be a prima ballerina dancing in front of the group, maybe occasionally, with a male partner.
And studying and handling all the things that you have to handle if you're going to be a dancer, I found various ways to be me. Mostly, again and again, I practiced expressing what I felt as I moved through space, doing with my body -- arms, legs, head, torso -- just what I felt.
That's me. Even if it's awkward, embarrassing, unpopular, those dancer habits persist as I'm dancing with words, turning, step-kick-stepping as a writer.