Wednesday, April 10, 2013


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.


Anonymous said...

Great blog-love the Rockettes! If I were tall and long legged and lived in NYC -I might have tried out to become one. But, I am short and plump so that dream has fizzled out. Lol! Thanks for sharing the info and behind the scenes to a great group of dancers. kam

Anonymous said...

Hello Em, you said, "I never dreamed of being a Rockette." Good4U!!! Hard 2B different yet its #ESSENTIAL in this #IllusiveWorld =D

Linda Phillips said...

This is very ironic. I am currently reading "I, Rhoda" by Valerie Harper. Harper began her show business career as a dancer and for a time was a member of the Radio City Corps de Ballet, keeping the exact same, rigorous schedule as the Rockettes.

She seemed to love that life and described it as a family, a community. They practically lived there. They had beds, kitchens and just about everything else one would have in a dormitory.

She did not do this for very long, as I recall. I mean it wasn't years, but just long enough until she landed in a Broadway chorus.

carola said...

I remember waiting in line to see the Rockettes as a little girl. It was a bitter cold January day.

Mary Russell said...

As a little girl, I too dreamed of being a dancer and did it all...ballet, tap, Irish dancing, but alas, I was about as graceful as a hippo on ice-skates. It didn't stop me from trying but if you don't have that natural grace, it's not something you can really be taught.

It's very pleasing to me that my daughter was fortunate to have that natural grace and has been doing ballet, and modern dance, since she was 3 (she's now 14) so already, she has achieved far more than I ever did. Not sure either of us would make it as Rockettes (I'm only 5' 2" so that's a non-starter!) and, while I completely understand your desire for individuality, there's something quite mesmerizing about a perfectly synchronized line of dancers.