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How to chase your dream of becoming a Rockette: NYCurious

If you can do 300 kicks in 90 minutes, you’re on your way to becoming one of NYC’s iconic Christmas dancers.

Road to becoming a Rockette

(Credit: Radio City Rockettes)

This is part of our series, NYCurious, where we answer your questions about the city. Tweet or Facebook Message your queries to us at @amNewYork, with #NYCurious.

Every year, hundreds of dancers flock to New York City for the chance to spend the holiday season onstage at Radio City Music Hall alongside the Rockettes. With only 80 spots total, and even fewer open for newcomers each year, making it as one of the city’s iconic dancers isn’t an easy feat.

Many who’ve made it past the annual audition process and actually get to high-kick New Yorkers and tourists into the new year remain aware of the rarity of the position they hold. Park Slope’s Audrey Telemann, 24, says she’s still “so grateful” after nearly seven years on the team.

It’s not uncommon for the Rockettes to have spent years at local dance studios gearing up for their big moment. Several have dreamt of working at Radio City since seeing the show for the first time as children.

But there’s still hope for you to become one of the dancers even if your desire to do so is simply a new aspiration.

Below, we’ve broken down a bit of what you’ll need to know to become one of Radio City’s leading ladies, from those meticulous height requirements to audition process secrets.

Keep in mind, the road to the stage looks different for everyone. Heather Langham, 37, auditioned 10 times over the course of six years before finally becoming a Rockette in 2009. Telemann only auditioned once before being graced with the dance team’s title.

Mandatory requirements:

You have to be proficient in jazz, tap and ballet. It’s always a plus if dancers know other techniques, but not knowing pointe, for example, isn’t a dealbreaker. Rockettes use jazz, ballet and especially tap throughout the show, from the “12 Days of Christmas” to “Parade of the Wooden Soldier.”

You must be between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-10 1/2  inches tall. The dance team is known for its strict height requirements, but they’re in place for a reason. The dancers are arranged in descending height order while in line to perform their iconic high kicks and other numbers to create the illusion that they’re all exactly the same height. When you get to the audition, they’ll measure you in “stocking feet,” meaning you’ll have to fit into the range without your tap heels on.

You must be at least 18 years of age. If your 18th birthday falls after Sept. 15 in the casting year, you’ll be allowed to audition with a consent form signed by a parent or guardian. Technically, there’s no maximum age limit, but Rockettes typically aim to hit the goal of at least 10 years on the stage before hanging up their tap shoes. Retired Rockettes often remain with the company, working backstage as dressers or teaching dance classes during the Radio City Summer Intensive workshop.

The audition process:

Two-day auditions are held each spring at Radio City. More than 400 women showed up to the 2017 auditions last April. Since the auditions are open to the public, lines often grow outside the venue, and dancers are seen in order of arrival. Auditions take place in the Large Rehearsal Hall.

You’ll perform Rockette combo routines in groups. Dancers are split into five groups as they learn dance routines that gradually increase in difficulty. Routines vary between ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical and kicks.

Cuts are made after each routine. Julie Branam, the "Christmas Spectacular" director and choreographer, watches while the dancers give it their all. She “looks for dancers who are in great physical shape and have the stamina to perform in up to five 90-minute shows in one day,” according to a Rockettes blog post.

“They’ll teach you a basic kick and turn combo, then they do a cut in the first round. From there, those who made it will learn jazz, then another cut. Then they’ll teach more of the jazz combo, then a tap combo, and then if you made it that far, you’ll come back for the callback round,” Langham says.

You won’t get told why you didn’t make it. With hundreds of dancers to see in two days, Branam and her team can’t give individual feedback to all who try out. If you’re not asked to return for the second day, or don’t get a callback after round two, you won’t be told why. “There’s no feedback. You have to learn on your own in the audition process,” Langham says. “I make sure I’m watching the assistant helping the director, looking at their details and trying to replicate what they’re doing when they’re presenting. Feedback-wise, you have to go back off what you think and work harder on perfecting the style.”

Even if you become a Rockette, you’ll have to try out again each year. No spot on the Rockettes team is final. If you make it, you’ll be awarded a contract that stretches from September or October to early January, though it varies per Rockette. Once the contract ends, Rockettes attend the open auditions before being asked to return for the following season.

Tips from the Rockettes:

Get your body ready for the physical demands. Rockettes can do up to 300 kicks per show and as many as five shows per day, making it mandatory that the dancers are in top physical shape. “I started doing a lot of weight training. It’s not bodybuilding, but what I was doing was a lot of strength training and high intensity interval training to help with endurance,” Langham said.

Take part in the summer intensive. Several dancers who now call themselves Rockettes took part in the summer workshop before nailing their auditions. The workshop (about $1,099), led by former Rockettes, teaches you actual routines that’ll come in handy when performing in front of Branam. Plus, you’ll be able to take advantage of feedback. You can find out more about the program, which stretches from June to August, at rockettes.com/rockettes-summer-intensive.

Don’t let defeat keep you down. “I’ve told a lot of the girls I worked with at the summer program that it’s really just a lot about passion and perseverance behind your dedication,” Telemann says. “If you want something, don’t let anyone stop you. Keep going after it and after it. I’ve told friends who auditioned many times you have to go back and smile be confident.”

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