The Radio City Rockettes (Photo by Joseph Pearson from Unsplash)

After Almost a Century, the Rockettes Remain Synonymous With the Holiday Season

As cheer fills the air this winter, let's remember this popular Christmas dancing performance at Radio City Music Hall.
December 21, 2021
10 mins read

As of Dec. 17, the Rockettes will no longer be performing in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular due to rising pandemic concerns. However, this article, which was written prior to the cancelation, still showcases the extraordinary history and talent behind the Rockettes.

When you “need a little Christmas, right this very minute,” what do you think of? Does your mind immediately turn to the decor that embellishes the season, or maybe the tasty treats that you only get to indulge in once a year? Or perhaps you think of the activities that mark Christmastime — walking through holiday villages, going ice skating or even shopping for gifts are all hallmarks of the festive season.

NYC’s Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes

One timeless tradition that has also found its way into many people’s hearts is attending holiday performances filled with music and dancing. New York City’s Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes puts its own spin on the holiday tradition with the glitz and glam of the production. The most notable members of this production are the Rockettes, a group of precision dancers whose synchronized moves take center stage.

For people who may not be familiar with the name behind the kick line, the Rockettes are a dance troupe that puts on a Christmas-themed special in New York City each year. With a home base at the Radio City Music Hall, these performers hit the stage each season with routines reminiscent of chorus line dancers. The women-only group rigorously practices for their acclaimed Christmas shows, where themed music and dancing celebrate the holiday.

By literally “kicking off” the Christmas season with their synchronized kicks, the Rockettes make tireless dancing look effortless and beautiful. Some deem the show “the ultimate New York City holiday celebration,” but how did a dance production gain such a lofty title?

The History of the Rockettes

The first version of the iconic dance troupe was formed in 1925. Over the years and after a jaunt from St. Louis to New York City, the Rockettes made their debut at the Radio City Music Hall in 1932. Audiences showered the Rockettes with praise for their synchronized dancing, which was something unlike anything Radio City had seen before. Shortly after their debut, the Rockettes could be seen in any situation imaginable: From entertaining U.S. troops during wartime to paying homage to the work of Walt Disney, the dancers touched key moments in American history.

Although performances have changed throughout the years, the differences never dwindled the audience’s love for the troupe. Because of their precise movements and wide range of music and dance numbers, the presence of the Rockettes became cherished everywhere. As The Radio City Rockettes website remarked, “Like so many events the Rockettes took part in, it became a New York City tradition.” From their inception to today, the Rockettes hold a bright spot within American holiday traditions.

The Rockettes Now

Today, the Rockettes continue to share the magic of Christmas each holiday season at the Radio City Music Hall. Seasonal tunes such as “The 12 Days of Christmas” come together with sharp tap dancing and sparkly outfits for an extra-festive theater experience. While other seasonal productions like “The Nutcracker” ballet or Nativity plays can set spirits high, the Rockettes stand out because of their strict yet timeless routines.

One particular number, the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” appears in the Christmas Spectacular each year. Deemed the “ultimate trust fall,” the 36 dancers must fall on top of each other like toys and make it look painless to the audience. The final fallen pose, complete with a synchronized salute, is the cherry on top that marks the scene as a fan favorite. Under a video that exposes the “Secrets of the Rockettes’ Wooden Soldier Fall,” viewers expressed their awe of the work needed to pull the scene off.

One comment stated firmly, “These girls are incredibly strong. They make it look easy but it is not.” In a similar way, another comment wrote, “This particular bit astounded me as a child & adult & parent.” Both comments focus on the fact that these dancers are not only gorgeous to watch on the stage, but their attention to detail and perfect technique give audiences the illusion of ease.

Becoming a Rockette

From glittering costumes to joyous group numbers, the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes rings year after year with the spirit of the season. Though the dancers are a wondrous sight to behold, what does it take to be a Rockette for the holidays? While they make their beautiful formations look easy, the tricks lie behind the curtain. Dancers spend months training their bodies and minds for the intensity of the role: The athletic demand, near-perfect looks and an “effortless” disposition are all needed to make those memorable performances.

In an article that addressed “How to chase your dream of becoming a Rockette,” aspiring Rockettes can discover the lengthy and particular requirements that go into the role. To achieve that seamless look onstage, dancers must be between 5 feet, 6 inches and 5 feet, 10 inches tall. Additionally, to have a chance at kicking in that famous chorus line, Rockette hopefuls must know jazz, ballet and tap dancing. With height restrictions and some knowledge of dancing required, it’s safe to say not everyone can be a Rockette. There’s no shame in not making the cut, however: No matter if you’re a returning Rockette or a prospective dancer, every woman has to re-audition for the production each year.

As for the women who do become the season’s dancers, the Rockettes work for months in preparation for the Christmas Spectacular. The performers must perfect the art of looking cheery and bright without expressing their exhaustion. Putting in multiple hours each day and pushing their bodies to the limits can seem excessive, but the women who love taking part in the Radio City Music Hall show simply see it as another holiday tradition.

A video covering “A Rockette’s Entire Routine” captures the intensity of the job, as it tackles multi-show days and mile-high kicks. Despite admitting to the rigor, the dancer in this video basked in the privilege of performing for the equally excited audience. The result — after weeks of repetitive kicking and posing — is well worth it, evidenced by the audience members that love that “effortless” performance.

Anticipation is high for the 2021 Christmas Spectacular at the Radio City Music Hall. After the season show was canceled for the first time ever in 2020, everyone is clearly ecstatic and nervous for the show to go on. While the Rockettes are happy to be back on the stage they call home, there’s just as much enthusiasm emanating from fans flocking to New York City.

For some, making the pilgrimage to this theater is an annual tradition. For others, the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see such famous dance numbers live. There’s only one thing left to do with all this excitement: Run to the Rockettes before your “spirit falls again!”

Joy Young, Chapman University

Writer Profile

Joy Young

Chapman University
English Literature

Constantly searching for new inspiration, Joy strives to stay curious and expressive. Fueled by coffee and creation, she’s passionate about finding ways to write it down and share it around.

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