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Radio City Rockettes: From backstage prep to athletic training

Filling New Yorkers with holiday cheer is one seriously big responsibility. For the Rockettes, the stars of Radio City Music Hall's annual “Christmas Spectacular,” it’s just another day on the job.

We caught up with Taylor Shimko, who has been a Rockette for seven years, to see just how she and her 79 other team members spend their work day. With two teams of dancers splitting 32 shows per week between November and January, being one of the show's stars definitely isn’t your average 40-hour-per-week gig, but she doesn’t mind.

“The Rockettes are such an iconic legacy of New York City,” she said. “It’s such an amazing thing to be able to dance alongside my best friends ... to be here and to love what I do.”

We shadowed Shimko and found out there really is no such thing as an average day for a Rockette. For Shimko, the job runs Monday through Saturday and her days can run as long as 11-and-a-half hours, depending on how many shows she’s scheduled for.

“There’s really no consistency in all of our schedules,” she said.

It sounds rough -- and it is -- but when you’re living out your childhood dream, the days seem less like work and more like spending time with friends and family, she said.

“Being a part of such an amazing legacy is something that little girls dream about being when they grow up, so it’s so awesome to be standing in these shoes now when I once looked up to the Rockettes as a young girl,” she added.

Here’s a look at what a day on the clock could look like for one of NYC's iconic Christmas dancers.

Arrive at work — aka Radio City Music Hall

The Rockettes enter Radio City Music Hall through
Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The Rockettes enter Radio City Music Hall through a private stage entrance on 51st Street. While they're not required to be in their dressing rooms until 30 minutes before a show is scheduled to begin, some arrive as early as two hours before the show to prepare. For a 9:30 a.m. show, Shimko, who lives in midtown, wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to prep and get herself to the theater by 8 a.m.

Give a tour or participate in a photo-op

Radio City is hardly ever empty during the
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Astrid Stawiarz

Radio City is hardly ever empty during the holiday season. Even if the first show of the day is at 2 p.m., lines of tourists and school groups waiting for preshow tours will grow outside. Some dancers will arrive before call time to help out with the tours, Shimko said. Dancers may also be called in early for photo shoots, she added.

Head to the athletic training room

Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

"[Performing] is pretty demanding and strenuous, so we're there to do a thorough warm up," or cool down, Shimko said. She'll spend 20 minutes in the athletic training room (which is decked out with old photos of Rockettes) either before or after a performance, depending on her physical needs of the day. Equipment includes massage chairs, weight machines, stretching areas and a hot tub Jacuzzi and ice bath to soothe sore muscles.

"We're dancing on a steel stage, which is really hard on muscles," Shimko said. She makes sure a trip to the athletic training room is in her schedule to prevent injury.

Master the twisted hair

This may come as a surprise, but the
Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

This may come as a surprise, but the Rockettes don't have a team of stylists on hand backstage. The dancers all do their own hair and makeup before the show -- but that doesn't mean the ladies won't lend each other a helping hand. Shimko recalled her friend Sagan Rose, who's been a Rockette for 9 years, was one of the first to show her how to do the signature French twist.

It takes Shimko, now a clear French twist master, about 4 minutes before the first show of the day to complete her hairstyle.

Freshen up and add that Rockette red lip

Shimko arrives with most of her makeup already
Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

Shimko arrives with most of her makeup already done and will add an extra dab here and there before the show. It takes her about 10 minutes to intensify her makeup look with rosy blush, false lashes and a red lip so the stage lights don't "wash me out," she said.

Take to the stage for the big show

The Rockettes will head to the stage in
Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The Rockettes will head to the stage in their reindeer costumes promptly five minutes after the scheduled showtime. With her hair and makeup ready to go, Shimko will slip into the first number's outfit and head down from her dressing room to the stage for her first show of the day.

On Mondays, Shimko dances in one 2 p.m. show which will get her out of work around 4 p.m. On Tuesdays, she has three shows on her schedule, with less than an hour of downtime in between. How she spends that time varies between playing games with friends in the dressing room, visiting the athletic training room again or grabbing some lunch.

Quick costume changes backstage

The Rockettes have backstage costume changes down to
Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The Rockettes have backstage costume changes down to a science, which she described as "organized chaos." Shimko will share one dresser with two other dancers. The quickest costume change, between "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and "New York at Christmas," is only 78 seconds. With limited time to slip into such intricate costumes, the dancers also lend each other a hand.

"We're very self-sufficient," Rose said. "We'll help unzip and unhook each other so when we arrive [at the dressing room] all we have to do is slip on the next one." The dressing order is also very specific. While one girl puts on her shoes first, another must be putting on her dress first, Rose added.

"The dressers have a hard, hard job. There would be no dancers onstage if it wasn't for them," Shimko added.

Grab food and wind down

After a long and strenuous day on the
Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

After a long and strenuous day on the job, Shimko likes to wind down with a walk back to her apartment. But before she heads out, she'll hang around with the other dancers and play games, watch the football game or Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and, most importantly, grab a big bite to eat.

"We always get either a big milkshake or pizza to reward ourselves after a long day," she said. Her favorite nearby pizza shop is John's Pizzeria of Times Square, pictured, a perfect stop on her way home. If the girls order in, they'll call Rockefeller Center's Bill's Bar & Burger and ask for "nine milkshakes at 9:30, ready to go!"


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