How the Rockettes get their rockin’ bodies

To get ready for their annual “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” the Rockettes have to be in, well, spectacular shape. We met up with two Rockettes — Theresa Pelicata and Amanda McCormick — who gave us a primer on the moves that take them from rehearsal studio to stage.

Rockettes, dancers, exercise, warmup, rehearsal, training, fit, body
Amanda, left, and Theresa, right, give our reporter Meredith Engel some pointers. Credit Lenyon Whitaker/Metro

The audition

Anyone interested in becoming a Rockette needs to be proficient in tap, ballet and jazz, but that’s not all. “Now that [we’re] revamping the show, I would even go as far as to say modern because everything that we’re doing [has] a contemporary spin,” says Pelicata, who’s marking her 10th season as a Rockette. Dancers must also be between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-10 ½ — sorry, petites. Auditions take place every April.

Tryouts are a series of dance combinations (jazz, tap, etc.) that the Rockettes must learn and perform for Linda Haberman, the show’s director and choreographer, as well as assistant choreographers. About 50 women audition at a time, with about 15 from each group making it to the next round. From there, their numbers are whittled down again from groups of 50, “and then if you’re lucky enough, by the end of the day, you do a kickline,” says Pelicata. Ultimately, 80 women are given the job.

Rockettes, dancers, exercise, warmup, rehearsal, training, fit, body
From left, Theresa, Meredith and Amanda get their shoulders rolling. Credit Lenyon Whitaker/Metro

Rehearsal

Rehearsals begin at the end of September. “Until that point you try to stay fit and get yourself in your best shape for the show,” says McCormick, who’s entering her fourth season. The girls rehearse six days a week, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (And you thought your day was stressful!) During the six weeks of practice, the Rockettes learn each number in the show: “One number could take one day, [or] one number could take three days depending on how new it is and how long it is,” McCormick says.

Rockettes, dancers, exercise, warmup, rehearsal, training, fit, body
We got pointers about our calves. Credit Lenyon Whitaker/Metro

The warm up

The Rockettes spend about an hour warming up before each show, doing the following sequence:

• Head rolls
• Shoulder rolls
• Arm swings
• Side bends
• Torso rotations
• Knee hugs
• Slide lunges
• Calf stretches
• Butt kicks
• Power-Up
• “The scoop”
• Jogging backward
• Soldier walks

The Power-Up is great prep for “Video Game,” which finds the Rockettes in a live-action version of a hot new Christmas game. Because the routine has lots of lunges in it, this lunge-to-step-up works the quads.

The signature Rockette “scoop” is a hamstring stretch. Extend one leg forward, with weight on the back leg. Reach toward the forward foot, then scoop your arms up like you’re scooping ice cream. Repeat on the other leg. “Almost before every single number you’ll see some random Rockette trying to get a quick scoop in somewhere,” Pelicata says.

 

The show

“The show is kind of a gym itself,” says McCormick of the 90-minute “Spectacular,” during which Rockettes strut their stuff in 2.5-inch heels. “There’s so much to think about in every single dance, every single number, every single movement,” Pelicata adds. “You’re thinking about a different body part activating and working.”

Offstage, the moves are just as choreographed. “While we’re not onstage, you’re literally getting changed for another number — coming out of ‘Wooden Soldiers’ into ‘New York at Christmas’ we have, like, 72 seconds to get out of your pants, your socks, your tap shoes, your jacket, your hat, your gloves [and put] on another hat, gloves, jacket, dress, pair of shoes,” Pelicata says. “Even when we’re not onstage you’re still going, going, going.”

We mentioned they do the whole show in heels, right? They train in them, too, to strengthen the ankle muscles and avoid injury.

Rockettes, dancers, exercise, warmup, rehearsal, training, fit, body
This isn’t a crime scene, it’s just the Rockettes cooling down. Credit Lenyon Whitaker/Metro

The cooldown

“After we’re done with the show, our muscles are going, going, going, and we need to sing them a lullaby,” Pelicata says of the cooldown, which includes stretching the hamstring, rotator and quad. These moves shouldn’t be arduous, as “we’ve already done our strenuous work,” she adds.

Rockettes, dancers, exercise, warmup, rehearsal, training, fit, body
Meredith tries a strut kick. Credit Lenyon Whitaker/Metro

Plus: Those kicks!

The Rockettes need to be sufficiently warmed up to demo their signature eye-high kicks, but they did teach us their strut kicks, which are waist-high. If you look carefully at a Rockette kickline you might notice that the girls are actually not touching the backs of the dancers next to them. Doing so might mess up the balance of the kickline, Pelicata says (think of a wobbly bridge). Another thing to look carefully at: the floor of the stage. It’s marked with numbers and tape for where every Rockette needs to be during a kickline.

Strut kicks
1. Start in a bevel: Bend your right knee and angle it to the left, so that your bunions on both feet touch. Squeeze your knee across your body (there should be no open space between your legs).
2. Go into a passé: Bring your toe to knee height.
3. Kick your leg out: Angle your right leg to the left. Doing so gives the impression of a longer, leaner leg.
4. Return to a passé.
5. Return to a bevel.

 

Fun facts

• There are 80 Rockettes total, with 36 of them onstage at one time (some perform in afternoon shows, others in evening shows).

• There are three swings who know nine routines — everyone else knows one.

• There are two dance captains.

• The Rockettes do their own hair and makeup before performances.


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