The day the Rockettes came to Charlotte, North Carolina, and performed “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” young Shelby Finnie was bewitched. “I just remember thinking, ‘I want to be a part of that magic someday,’” she recalls.
At 19, her dream came true. After an exhausting series of auditions in August, she received the phone call that very few get. “It was a dream of mine for so long,” she gushes, “and when I finally set foot on that stage, it was a moment that I’ll never forget.”
But since the start of the holiday season, there’s little breathing space for her to relish the moment. The “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” is already in full swing, running 2-6 shows per day, with the highlights including the resurrection and reimagining of the 1940 routine, “Rag Dolls,” in which the Rockettes come to life as rag dolls in Santa’s workshop, and “Snow,” which displays the Rockettes’ technological updates with GPS-enabled snowflakes that transform the entire theater into a winter wonderland.
It’s a challenge for Finnie and the other 79 Rockettes, and it requires just as much strength of body as of spirit. “A lot of people don’t know that what the Rockettes do is very athletic,” she points out. “We’re athletes as well as artists.”
In fact, when Finnie tells people she’s a Rockette, it’s sometimes hard for them to believe she’s even human. “People are in shock a little bit,” she laughs, “because they don’t think of a Rockette as being a normal person every day on the street. We’re actually real people; we still take dance class and go to the grocery store.”
Another aspect of the show the audience doesn’t see or appreciate is that the precision that the Rockettes demonstrate onstage in 1.5-hour installments also happens behind the curtain. “Once we go offstage,” Finnie explains, “the backstage life is just as choreographed as when we are onstage, because every quick change, every step you take, has to be calculated in order for the show to run smoothly.”
Perhaps the sweetest moment of any performance for Finnie is catching sight of a little girl in the front rows, which inevitably reminds her of the day she first saw the Rockettes. “It’s a full-circle moment to think that I’m inspiring another little girl to become a professional dancer. It makes me so happy, because I really think it’s the best job in the world,” she reflects.
“I can only hope that more little girls will come see us and say, ‘I want to do that.’”