Dancing with the Rockettes

Long past the tender age of tutus and tiaras, our intrepid reporter realizes her dream

by Linda Yellin
rockettes cartoon image
Photograph: Johnathan Carlson

I’m a terrible dancer. Yet I’ve always had fantasies of joining a chorus line. That’s how I ended up in The Rockettes Experience (broadway​dancecenter.com—click on workshops), offered by New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall. For $120, I’d get two hours of tap, jazz and ballet taught by a genuine Rockette, followed by a Radio City stage door tour.

Three days before the class, I received a waiver releasing the Rockettes from any claims “arising out of death, bodily injury, personal injury or property damage.” Forget property damage. Let’s get back to that death clause. I could also be discharged from the class for bad behavior. Fortunately, there was no clause threatening to throw me out for bad dancing.

On the day of my Experience, I headed off to Radio City. “I’m so excited!” I told a woman standing next to me. She seemed amused. “You’re dancing?” “Yes!” I said. “Aren’t you?” “No. I’m here with my daughter,” she said. I looked around and realized I was surrounded by young girls in pretty little leotards. I was the only student older than 13.

We took an elevator to the seventh floor, then walked down two flights and followed a long hallway to the rehearsal room. Already I was out of breath. After being introduced to Bill, who’d be playing the piano, and our dance teacher, Lisa, we were instructed to stretch into poses I didn’t know were humanly possible.

Lisa, who has been a Rockette for 15 years, told us how competitive the job is—dancers must reaudition every year—as she took us through stretches, kicks and deep knee bends. This class has been a great workout, I thought. Turns out that was just the warm-up. Next we were asked to form a long row, shoulder-to-shoulder Rockettes style, tallest in the middle. As the tallest person in the class (probably because I was the only one who had completed her growth spurt), I was front and center. Lisa talked about numbers painted on the floor to help with our synchronization, but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find them. (Why don’t more Rockettes wear reading glasses?) For our first steps, we learned the “Shine” combination, named for the Rockettes’ shiny costumes. Lisa demonstrated steps that everyone else seemed familiar with. Something about a posse falafel toe flap?

I broke formation and ran over to my water bottle. A dad told me, “I really admire you for taking this class.” His wife added, “Y’know, last week there was a Senior Citizens Experience.” Before I could offer a retort, I had to hurry back for the tap lesson.

Let’s just say tap is easier to fake than ballet. For our wooden-soldiers routine, tall-girl Linda led the group, and the steps were basically a walk-shuffle, so aside from falling behind the music, stalling the entire line and forcing Bill to slow down his tempo, I soldiered on, feeling confident. Tap was my forte!

This was not the case for kicks, which, Lisa explained, should be eye high. Mine were ankle high. But I was still excited by the prospect of a mock audition in which you pretend you are trying out to be a real Rockette. I figured I’d nail it on my wooden-soldier moves—until Lisa announced that tap was not part of the pretend audition; we would be judged on those posse falafel toe flap steps.
I’d have said “Oh, damn!” but I didn’t want to swear in front of the children.

We “auditioned” in groups of three. I decided my role was to make my two compatriots look good by comparison, and I succeeded spectacularly.

Afterward I heard a dancer say, “My mom and I are going for ice cream sodas.”

I headed home for a vodka and tonic.

Next: A Woman's Over-40 Dance Troupe Rocks the WNBA

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First Published Tue, 2013-05-14 14:19

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