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Behind the Curtain: The Rockettes

Mary Gibble

From November 29 to December 8, the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach hosts the world famous Radio City Rockettes and their Christmas Spectacular. The Rockettes were first formed in 1925 by choreographer Russell Markert and, at the time, were known as the Missouri Rockets. Following a move to NYC, the dance troupe became the Rockettes and performed at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in 1932. The first Christmas Spectacular was staged in 1933 and has since become the cornerstone of the Rockette repertoire. PBI.com talked with two current Rockettes, Jeanne Cargill and Laura Iberg, about their experiences with the organization and the Christmas Spectacular show.

 

PBI.com: When did you first decide you wanted to be a Rockette?

Laura Iberg: I started dancing at the young age of 3 and I did that all throughout school. I first saw the Rockettes live when they came to The Fox in St. Louis, Missouri, and ever since then I was like 'Oh my gosh, I want to be a Rockette!' I'd seen them growing up at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but after I saw them live I was like 'this is my goal and I'm going to work at it.' And my dance instructor growing up said 'You have such long legs, that's what you should do!' So, I kept auditioning and it took me four tries [before] I finally got the call.

Jeanne Cargill: I danced from a young age as well and I really loved tap, and the Rockettes really do some good tapping. So, that was my first draw to them when I was younger. And then, as an adult, I participated in their Summer Intensive program; you spend about five days training with a Rockette, learning bits of choreography, and you get a behind-the-scenes idea of what really is entailed in the job.


What is the audition process like?

LI: You have to do a jazz combination, we tap and we kick and then we usually will do another jazz combination as well. It's a two-day process; they have the open call and then they make quite a few cuts throughout the day depending on how many women show up. Usually there's at least four to five, possibly 600 ladies wrapped around Radio City, so it's quite a long day that first day. Then, we come back the second day for the call back and they videotape us. And then, we wait until we hopefully get a call.

 

What is the height requirement to be a Rockette? I read that it's about 5'6" to 5'10"?

JC: 5'10.5", you were so close!

 

I also read that you stick the taller Rockettes in the middle when you do the kick line so that everyone appears to be the same height?

JC: It's our first day of rehearsals, we take off our shoes and we line up from the very tallest to the very less tall — we don't say shortest. And we file stage left, stage right, so that gives you your less tall girls at the end and your taller girls in the middle, and that's your spot for the season.

LI: [That gives] the illusion we're all the same height.

 

Now, tell me about the kicks.

LI: Well, we're known for our famous eye-high kicks. So, basically, you're looking out and up towards [the back of] the theater. We might have certain lights we might look at for a focus point, but then you want your toe to reach your eye. And that's how we all maintain that perfect eye-high level.

What is your daily rehearsal like?

JC: We rehearse six days a week, six hours a day. It starts usually end of September or beginning of October, depending upon which troupe you are in. We'll do that for about a month and a half; it's a pretty long rehearsal process because everything has to be just so.

 

You mentioned different troupes, how is it broken up?

JC: We have two lines of 36 in New York, because in the height of December the schedule can get quite lengthy, and they'll have shows going on from 8 in the morning through 8 in the evening. So, we share the schedule with two casts. And then on the road—

LI: We have one touring city group that will go to Atlanta, West Palm Beach and Tampa, and then we have another group that's sent down to Nashville.

 

Continued on page 2

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