After shows were canceled at Radio City Music Hall last year due to the pandemic, the Rockettes are finally able to perform live again. The iconic kickers returned at the beginning in November with a few weekend shows, but this week they head full steam into the holiday season.
The group, which started nearly a century ago (1933), has spent the past month practicing for their debut. Through October they rehearsed six hours a day, six days a week. Soon they will be doing up to four shows and 650 kicks a day in Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular.
Meet the Dancers
Lauren Renck Manning has been a Rockette for nine years. Manning grew up in New Hope, Pennsylvania and watched the Rockettes perform during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade every year. “I knew that this was something that was really unique and special, requires immense training in ballet tap and jazz,” she says. “I always I looked up to these women.”
Manning auditioned for the Rockettes three times (a common experience among the dancers). To improve, she took dance lessons with the Rockettes, back when they were in-person. She worked on her tap and jazz skills until she was finally accepted.
Kristin Grace Smith’s family comes to see her perform every year; they’re from Long Island. Even before Smith became a Rockette, she grew up coming every year since she was three to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Smith took jazz and tap growing up, until one day she realized she wanted to be a dancer. She went to the Boston Conservatory to study professionally, and she started auditioning for the Rockettes at 18. But she got rejected and kept auditions until she was excepted on her third try in 2013. “This is now my eighth season, and I’m so blessed to be here,” she says.
Much like Manning, Ellen Mihalick, who’s from New Jersey, grew up coming to Manhattan to watch the Rockettes. “I actually have a picture I was four years old, I’m standing under the marquee,” says Mihalick. “Now I have it framed next to the same picture in costume.”
Moving to Social Media
The Dancer Development program is designed to help professional dancers hone their skills. It is a pipeline to Rockette-hood and was how Manning eventually working her way into the company. Though the invitation-only program shut down during the pandemic, this led the way to teach a wider audience the techniques of the Rockettes.
Though all live performances shut down last year, the group moved to social media to connect with their audience. They hosted online dance lessons and turned their living rooms into dance studios. “It created a way for us to be creative and find new ways to stay in touch,” says Mihalick. “We really took advantage of social media to reach out and connect with fans and dancers and Rockette hopefuls from all across the world.”
They mostly worked on Instagram, especially Instagram Live, but there is also the occasional TikTok dance. Smith says they are still trying to grow their social media and have gotten great feedback on dance classes. But it’s not without its challenges. “It is harder when you’re not around your peers,” she says. It is unclear when Dancer Development will go back to in person, but for now all the Rockettes are vaccinated and back together on stage.
This Year’s Show
The Christmas Spectacular is 90 minutes long, with the Rockettes in no less than nine dances. The show will feature classic numbers like “Dance of the Wooden Soldiers,” which has been in the show since 1933. Manning loves that participating in that dance means getting “to be a part of that legacy is just something truly that is unmatched.” They are bringing in other classic numbers like the “12 Days of Christmas” and “Snow,” which Mihalick describes as “one of the most technically complex” dances in the show. The tap numbers also include microphones in their shoes, so all the tapping sounds are live.
As for their Thanksgiving Day Parade performance, the dancers aren’t letting anything slip. It’s a surprise for the big day, but it is sure to be full of high kicks galore. “It is a long day we’re performing the parade and, in the shows,” says Mihalick. “But we are at our home away from home for the holidays.”
“Bringing joy to all the patrons that are coming to Radio City is really, really incredible,” says Smith. Everyone is thrilled to be back after a year away. “From the moment you come off of Sixth Avenue and enter Radio City, it is truly the showplace of the nation,” says Mihalick. “I can not even put into words how excited we are to have the Christmas Spectacular back at Radio City.”