I wanna be a Rockette, not a dancing bear
While living in NYC, I try to attend as many stage performances each year that my wallet allows, and those include dance, classical music, plays and musicals. I greatly admire performers of all kinds — dedicated creative people spending hours of their lives trying to get a part — any part. For some, the last row of the company or a few lines will do, and for others, there’s nothing less than that starring role.
That lifestyle is grueling. Most work a night job so they’re available for daytime tryouts, and many who perform nights, work a day job to afford to live in NYC while they pursue their real aspirations.
As a young dancer, I had my share of auditions and I hated them. That’s pretty good proof that being a professional stage performer wasn’t my calling. Hours of a performer’s life are spent waiting in line, auditioning, and, most often, bearing rejection. Recently, I remembered one particular audition that was more disappointing than any others.
It was circa 1985, and Radio City Music Hall was the place. I commuted for the day from Pennsylvania, and spent hours in studios at the theater, trying to be cast in any role, or so I thought. This wasn’t for the world-renowned Rockettes (and I didn’t quite make the height requirement anyhow), but for another dancing part in the “ensemble,” as it’s called. It used to be the “chorus,” but somewhere between the 1980s and now, that became a less-than-desirable term.
The requirements were a classical ballet background, which I most definitely had. I learned combination after combination during a not-so-organized audition, and it included pointe work. By mid-afternoon, my toes were throbbing and enough was enough. I had been to auditions before, but nothing like this one. It honestly felt like torture. Cut me or cast me already!
Finally toward the end of the day, the director made an announcement. The dancing bears in the Christmas show were the available parts. I think my head spun around 360 degrees and I began hyperventilating. After hours of tour jetés and piqué turns, I found out this audition was for an animal role? I would’ve considered an ensemble part, but dressed as a human for crying out loud! No one would recognize me dancing in a bear costume, and I couldn’t imagine how hot or uncomfortable I would be underneath all of the fur and padding. Plus, dancers struggle to have a perfect physique. What was the point? Years of sacrificing those Butterscotch Krimpet Tastykakes didn’t matter one bit. Ugh.
I quickly remedied the situation. I gathered my dance bag and, with conviction, I stormed out of there. I exited the studio quickly and ran from door to door, trying to find an escape. Radio City Music Hall is a mighty big place with hundreds of doors, but none of them led to the street.
The backstage of this theater was like a maze, and I couldn’t get out. It must have been 30 minutes later, when I opened another door, and I was at last in the actual theater — what a magnificent yet scary place when alone. Somewhat starstruck, I also desperately needed to get outside for fresh air. I’d visited RCMH before, but for a show with a packed audience. This was a first, and I can honestly say I preferred the crowd. After trying all of the main doors, which were locked, I found one other door that was open, and at last I escaped to the street. What a relief.
Becoming a Rockette or performing at RCMH never made it to my resume, but I can honestly say that I danced in Radio City. In fact, I’ve been backstage, onstage, in the studios, and also lost in the theater (but not by choice).
That was my first and last tryout for a professional dance job in New York. If a dancing bear was the big time for me, then I’d rather have not been dancing. Perhaps I gave up too soon, but I didn’t love it enough. I think I cried for three hours on the Bieber bus back to Pennsylvania, but I knew that I’d made the right decision. I didn’t regret leaving that audition one bit.
In 2010, I returned to Radio City to see the Christmas Spectacular. When the dancing bears came on stage, my mother and I looked at each other and we couldn’t help but laugh. Twenty-five years later, I still knew that I made the right decision in 1985. It was best for me to leave the bear dancing to others. My heart just wasn’t in it.
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