One of the most iconic shows in New York City, the Rockettes’ 84-year-old Christmas Spectacular, is right around the corner—and the performers are using their tried and true techniques to make sure they’re ready when it kicks off tomorrow.
Veteran Rockettes Bailey Callahan of Melbourne, Florida, and Alissa LaVergne of Houston, Texas, have revealed their most captivating secrets, from their favorite snacks to whether those famous tapping sounds are recorded (spoiler: they’re not, but there is a trick).
First, some numbers: there are 80 Rockettes, split into two teams of 36 dancers and four standbys. The 36 women can fit shoulder-to-shoulder along the 66-foot stage. They perform eight dance numbers per show, up to four shows daily, 200 shows a season. The show produces 350 laundry loads weekly.
Performance: One of the most iconic shows in New York City, the Rockettes’ 84-year-old Christmas Spectacular, is right around the corner
Spilling the beans: Veteran Rockettes Bailey Callahan (center) has revealed some of the most captivating secrets behind the beloved Christmas show
Incredible: Dancer Alissa LaVergne, of Houston, Texas, revealed that the women don’t actually touch one another while doing high kicks but simply brush against those beside them
How tall are they and how many calories do they burn per show?
Rockettes must stand between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-10½ and be proficient at tap, jazz and ballet. Candidates must be ready to do 300 eye-high kicks a show.
One Rockette used a fitness tracker and discovered that she burned 1,000 calories every show. ‘When we do four shows a day, that’s a lot of pizza that we get to eat,’ Callahan said.
Where are they from?
Rockettes this year come from 26 states, plus Canada and Australia. New Jersey sent the most dancers, 12. Ohio is next with six.
Pennsylvania, Florida and California each have five; Michigan, New York and Arizona, four each; Maryland, three; Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana, Connecticut, Texas, Nebraska and Virginia, two each. Louisiana, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Washington, Kansas, Wisconsin, Alabama, North Carolina, Utah, Illinois and New Hampshire, one each.
Two come from Australia, five from Canada.
How do they look the same height if they’re not?
Heels? Optical illusion? It’s actually the latter, LaVergne revealed.
‘The way we line up is we put the taller girls in the center and gradually go down to the shorter girls on the end,’ the dancer said. ‘There’s a bit of an illusion but it’s actually really simple.’
The costumes are made proportionately, helping the illusion.
Numbers: Rockettes must stand between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-10½ and be proficient at tap, jazz and ballet. Candidates must be ready to do 300 eye-high kicks a show
Impressive: The Rockettes perform eight dance numbers per show, up to four shows daily, 200 shows a season. The show produces 350 laundry loads weekly
Group: There are 80 Rockettes, split into two teams of 36 dancers and four standbys. The 36 women can fit shoulder-to-shoulder along the 66-foot stage
During high kicks, how tightly do they hold each other?
Prepare to be astonished: ‘We actually don’t touch each other,’ LaVergne said.
The dancers just lightly brush the women beside them with outstretched arms. They call it ‘feeling the fabric’. That ensures they’re in line without pushing or leaning.
‘It just looks like you’re actually holding onto your neighbor but we don’t,’ LaVergne added.
What’s the best place to be on the line?
It doesn’t matter. ‘Whether you’re on the end or the center, you’re still kicking on your own,’ LaVergne said. Each dancer relies on back muscles, core strength and hamstring and quad power, not pushing off another dancer.
‘Whether you’re standing on 0 or 36, you’re going through the exact same experience,’ Callahan added.
Which is the quickest costume change?
Between the ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ and ‘New York at Christmas,’ the Rockettes have just 78 seconds to change outfits.
That means taking off socks, shoes, pants, jackets, gloves, cheeks and hats, and then putting on dresses, shoes, jackets, earnings, gloves and new hats. Wait, what’s that about ‘cheeks’? The Rockettes wear red cloth cheeks for ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ and ‘Rag Dolls’ for rosy complexions.
What do Rockettes eat?
Everything. Catered foods include proteins, veggies, salads, carbs, desserts. Bottles of sports drink Powerade are everywhere.
In her dressing room, LaVergne has chips, popcorn, yogurt and apples. Callahan’s go-to snack is a peanut butter and banana sandwich. She also has a stash of M&Ms.
Hurry! Between the ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ and ‘New York at Christmas,’ the Rockettes have just 78 seconds to change outfits
Sound: For the tap-dancing numbers ‘Rag Dolls’ and ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ wireless microphones are hidden in their tap shoes’ arches so the audience can hear the tapping noises
Keeping cool: Many dancers take an ice bath before heading home. Callahan sits in a tub in 45-degree water to reduce inflammation
Backstage: Before the curtain rises, the performers are onstage in reindeer costumes, hidden by a curtain while the overture is playing, some testing their antler lights
Where are the performers before the curtain rises?
They’re onstage in reindeer costumes, hidden by a curtain while the overture is playing.
Some stretch, some pray, some test their antler lights. Others do a clap routine, high fives or dance with a friend. Callahan does three splits, every time.
‘Because it’s so perfect and precise onstage once the curtain opens,’ LaVergne said, ‘to see everyone doing something different is hysterical.’
What do they swear by to stay healthy?
Vitamins, water, rest, good nutrition, CleanWell hand sanitizer. LaVergne likes Emergen-C packets. Callahan is partial to electrolyte tablets.
Year-round, Callahan likes yoga, Pilates and barre classes. LaVergne leans toward boot camp, boxing and interval training.
How do they cool down?
Many dancers take an ice bath before heading home. Callahan sits in a tub in 45-degree water to reduce inflammation.
Tools: In order to stay healthy, many dancers swear by vitamins, water, rest, good nutrition, CleanWell hand sanitizer, Emergen-C packets and electrolyte tablets
Coming soon: The Rockettes (pictured during an open rehearsal last month in New York City) will begin performing the Christmas Spectacular tomorrow
Camaraderie: There is no hazing among the Rockettes (pictured in a file photo during a rehearsal last month in New York City), according to the performers
Is that tapping real or recorded?
Oh, it’s real. For the tap-dancing numbers ‘Rag Dolls’ and ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ wireless microphones are hidden in their tap shoes’ arches.
What have been their most embarrassing moments?
For Callahan, it was a 2013 fall onstage, opening night in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ tap number: ‘It felt like an eternity on the floor but was probably two seconds. You had to keep smiling, keep going, pretend like nothing ever happened.’
LaVergne recalled the time a fellow Rockette’s shoe came off during a high kick and went sailing—luckily away from the audience. She kept going. Santa picked up the shoe like nothing happened.
Is there any hazing for newcomers?
Absolutely not, according to the performers. There’s no room for veterans to make freshmen feel lousy. They might offer advice, but no bullying.
‘We’re all in it together,’ says LaVergne. ‘If you don’t have that camaraderie and we don’t have that bond, it will show onstage.’