As the long velvet curtains rise up and the ringing of Christmas bells rises to a cacophony under a sung orchestral chorus, it is easy to feel a sense of holiday magic in the Radio City Music Hall. Since 1933, the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes has dazzled audiences far and wide during the season.
Featuring 84 multitalented women, the Rockettes are one of the most iconic and well-known dance teams nationwide. As of the 2022 Christmas Spectacular run, there are 18 new additions to the team from both the United States and Australia— 17 of which are from the Rockettes conservatory, a free invite-only dance development program established to diversify the line.
The Rockettes are known for their high kicks and kickline, all in perfect sync through the massive line of women onstage. From an audience perspective, the dancing almost seems gracefully robotic — each leg popping up with no discernable changes down the line. To be this synchronized, there must be a layer of trust and true camaraderie along those on the team. Many women on the team live away from home and their families during the holiday season and find a new home in the city and in their teammates.
Nadia Kolda has been a Rockette since 2017 and is originally from Columbus, Ohio. She auditioned while still in high school and received a spot on the team after seven auditions spanning five years. Growing up classically trained in tap and ballet, adding jazz, contemporary and pointe to her later training.
Her move to NYC to be a part of the team was the first time she moved away from her family. It was a hard moment for her being away for the holidays, but she established new traditions with a cast-wide Thanksgiving dinner and a dressing room Christmas gift exchange. Her fellow dancers get her through the hardships of being away and the stress of performing.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed with nerves performing on the Great Stage, but I always try to remind myself to breathe, be calm and realize that I’m surrounded by 35 other women experiencing the same thing as me,” Kolda said. “It gives me so much confidence to be part of a team of strong women, and I know I can always count on them to have my back, and I have theirs, too.”
From close to Radio City, Tara Dunleavy Tubridy is originally from Queens and has been kicking on the line since 2006. She found family in the Rockettes through her own journey in creating a family, continuing dancing through both of her pregnancies with her girls.
“I had a huge support system,” Tubridy said. “All the girls at work were amazing, so it’s just great. And I can always tell my girls they were with me while I was performing.”
Through Tubridy’s long run thus far on the team, she’s witnessed myriad changes in numbers and the Christmas magic in the Spectacular throughout the years. She’s seen how this tradition is engrained in many families and in her own— with her girls and husband always in the audience cheering her on. This year includes a new addition to the repertoire, a magical dance on a snowflake complete with fluttering fairy drones.
“Seeing how the show evolves year after year and new exciting elements are added to the show, I saw the audience light up at the Dance of the Frost Fairies,” Tubridy said.
Dance has been a vital part of each Rockette’s life, with second-season Rockette Alexis Payton from North Carolina describing it as her “emotional catharsis”. While new elements are added and shifted to the show annually, some numbers have been implemented since the show’s initial opening nearly a century ago. In addition to connecting with the team during performances, glimpses of the past can also be felt.
“Knowing that one of our numbers in the Christmas Spectacular, ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ has been in the show since 1933 makes me feel connected to both past and present Rockettes,” Payton said.
Once an audience member enthralled with the performance of the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”, second-year Rockette Catie Russell from Tampa, Florida became a Rockette after auditioning three times from their conservatory program. Russell reminisced on seeing the Christmas Spectacular from a birds-eye view upon her initial move to New York City. She remembers being in awe at the precision from her perspective and now feels so special being involved with the longstanding tradition and its history she once dreamed to be a part of.
“It was so amazing seeing all of the formations and lines from this angle,” Russell said. “I was amazed by ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ and it was incredible to see the lines, iconic costumes and the famous soldier fall live.”
While the Rockettes may make putting on intense continuous shows seem easy, a physical and mental toll is inevitable for anyone. Kolda didn’t expect the full mental toll of the performance when she started, saying that “every single move has a corresponding location on the stage in a grid-like fashion.”
“We rehearse six hours a day, six days a week and perform in up to four shows a day,” Russell said. “I don’t think I expected the mental aspect. Being a dancer, you can get in your head very easily because we are naturally perfectionists. That can be tough when the Rockette technique is so precise, so sometimes I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that I am here for a reason. There is a lot to learn as a rookie that can be overwhelming, especially in my first season last year when everything was new.”
Tubridy echoed this statement even with many years on the team, emphasizing the importance of taking care of your body through the grueling physical labor that comes with being a top-notch dancer and entertainer. She cites her reasons for getting through the holiday season as “staying fit and healthy and knowing your body.”
Through the pain and hardship, the Rockettes find teamwork and care in each other to be able to manage and put on the best show possible. First-year Rockette Jordana Rosenberg from New Jersey knew she wanted to be part of the team since she was a child, a common theme in most of the team. Even in her short time on the team, she feels entirely welcomed into the sisterhood of the Rockettes. She’s also a graduate of the new Rockette’s Conservatory program, the first in-person one which occurred this summer.
“I think that one of the most special parts about being a Rockette is the teamwork that goes into making the show spectacular. As a first-year Rockette, I am dancing with women who have done this job for as long as 23 years. Even the long-time veterans are willing to help go over choreography or even button the last button on a costume as we are running to the stage after a quick change.”
She felt like a true part of the team during her first performance at Radio City Music Hall for the premiere of the Hallmark movie “A Holiday Spectacular”.
“During this performance, I truly felt like a Rockette for the first time even though we had already been in rehearsals for a few weeks,” Rosenberg said. “When we did the final kick line, I could see the whole line of Rockettes next to me, and it just felt surreal.”
The 90-minute Christmas Spectacular is a conglomerate of teamwork, hard work from all parties involved and pure Christmas cheer.
The 2022 Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall is showing until Jan. 2, 2023. Tickets can be purchased here.