How do you get to Radio City Music Hall? Practice, practice, practice, say two Rockettes with Seattle connections who are returning to the Northwest to appear in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at The Paramount Theatre.
The secret to the famous Radio City Rockettes kickline? It’s a “no-touching policy.”
The Rockettes, who will bring their Radio City Christmas Spectacular to the Paramount for a three-week run starting Saturday, have long had that kickline as their signature move: a row of endless legs kicking eye-high in perfect synchronicity, to audience cheers. But there are a few tricks to it, as a pair of charmingly chatty Rockettes on the phone are happy to divulge.
“We have our hands behind each other’s back, but there is a no-touching policy,” said Amber Cameron, a Seattle native now in her seventh season as a Rockette. “We like to say, feel the fabric of the girl next to you. If you were really touching, you could be pushing the girl next to you. Imagine holding your center and having two girls pushing at your back — it would never work. We’re very much holding our own bodies very still and just feeling the fabric of the back of the girl next to us.”
Amy Klingler, a ninth-season Rockette and Midwestern native who now lives in Seattle when she’s not kicking in heels, added that meticulous rehearsal is the key — plus a bit of optical illusion.
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“Rockettes are between 5 foot 6 and 5 foot 10,” she said. “We strategically put our tallest girls in the center and minutely go down the line.” This gives the impression that all the dancers are the same height, despite a 4-inch difference.
For Cameron and Klingler, speaking on the phone from Pittsburgh (the tour’s pre-Seattle stop), this is the height of Rockette season, which begins with rehearsals in late September and ends with the last of the holiday-season performances in early January.
Both have performed in other shows during the offseason, as well as making appearances throughout the year at Rockette publicity events and Radio City tours.
As Rockettes, they’re part of a long tradition: First called the Missouri Rockets, the troupe made its debut in St. Louis in 1925 and came to New York for the opening of Radio City Music Hall in 1932. Re-christened the Roxyettes (after impresario S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel, who brought them to Radio City) and finally the Rockettes, they quickly grew from a 16- to 36-member troupe, dancing in lavish productions at the theater.
Three-quarters of a century later, some of those dances survive. Cameron said that among the numbers presented in the Seattle version of the Christmas Spectacular are a few performed unchanged since the 1930s, such as the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.
Citing the smaller size of the Paramount stage compared to Radio City, she said, “We’re able to do some fun numbers that are a little more intimate.” Among them: a trip to the North Pole, a tap number that goes through the Twelve Days of Christmas, a living nativity and snow on stage — “more than once.”
It’s a rigorous show, said Cameron: “If we’re not out there kicking our legs, we’re backstage frantically changing to get into the next number.”
Klingler said they have eight complete costume changes, including numerous accessories like gloves, hats, ears, wristbands and sleigh bells. At the end of the day (which may include several performances), many Rockettes take ice baths to help the muscles recuperate.
Both women emphasize the extensive dance training (in ballet, jazz and tap) required of a Rockette, and the select nature of the group.
Currently there are 160 Rockettes — half in New York, half on tour — and positions in the lineup are rare and hotly contested.
Klingler told of a Pittsburgh patron who, upon being told that number, said “You mean there’s only 160? You mean there’s more professional football players than Rockettes? There’s more of a chance that my son could be a pro football player than a Radio City Rockette?” (Klinger, demurely, answered, “Well, yes, for two reasons.”)
About 1,000 women turn up for the annual auditions in New York, for just a few slots — Rockettes, once in the troupe, tend to stay a while. Just don’t ask how old they are.
“I don’t know if any true Rockette reveals her age!” said Klingler, laughing — and not answering.
And they love the sense of history that comes with being a Rockette. Cameron told of meeting an elderly woman on the Radio City backstage tour who had been a Rockette in the 1940s — “at the time, they actually lived at the Music Hall and did performances between the movies” — and being thrilled by the connection.
“It’s a legacy that’s carried and passed on from line to line,” said Klingler. “We’re all very, very proud. Even when we can’t do those eye-high kicks any longer, we’re still able to say: Once a Rockette, always a Rockette.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org