This Dec. 14, a New York institution descends on Chicago. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular brings its glitz, glamour and very high kicks to the Akoo Theatre for a two-week holiday run. To celebrate, we talked to two local Rockettes, Kristina Larson-Hauk of Yorkville and Gabrielle Del Re Ashley of Pingree Grove, to get the behind-the-scenes scoop.
Rockettes have to be between 5' 6" and 5' 10 1/2" tall (not counting those ultra-high heels). In kick lines, they stand with the tallest women in the middle, moving down to the shortest on the ends, which creates the illusion that they're doing everything in unison.
Those famous kicks have a name-"eye-high kicks"-but they're not the only thing a Rockette has to do. Their style of dance, called precision dance, actually is a combination of ballet, jazz, tap and modern dance.
The Rockettes have eight costume changes (some as short as 90 seconds!) throughout the show. The favorite costume among the Rockettes? The gowns for the final number, "Let Christmas Shine," which are festooned with more than 3,000 crystals.
Rockettes have to be at least 18 to audition, and they must re-audition each year. Hauk has been kicking for 13 years, while Del Re has been with the Rockettes for 14. And veteran dancers teach the rookies the Rockette ropes.
You might think there's an army of stylists backstage poised to give the girls their signature look. But the Rockettes actually have to do their own hair-everyone wears a French twist-and makeup-that bright red lipstick that can be seen from the cheap seats.
From the audience, it looks like the Rockettes link arms or at least hold on to each other during those famous kick lines. But they aren't allowed to touch each other; they "feel the fabric" of their neighbors' costumes and rely on their core strength to stay upright.
During the holiday season, they average two shows a day, but they can't just sit back and relax afterward. Many of the Rockettes are professional dancers and/or actors, so they stay busy throughout the year. Plus, they do charity work, such as visiting children's hospitals, supporting the troops and putting on benefit shows.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular kicked off in 1933, and two of the original numbers still light up the stage. Perennial favorites "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and "The Living Nativity" (including live animals!) remain audience highlights.
This year's show has been spiced up with three new numbers: kid-friendly "Here Comes Santa Claus∫ and "Magic is There," and "New York at Christmas," featuring a life-size double-decker bus and a 50-foot LED screen that transports the audience right to the Big Apple.
The Christmas Spectacular might be an iconic New York production, but this year's show also will be staged in Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas and Chicago. It hasn't stopped in the Windy City since 2008, though, making this year a great time to start a new holiday tradition.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.