It’s not easy being a Rockette. The rehearsal schedule is rigorous—and that’s for those who survive the audition process. Only the crème de la crème make the cut.
Maranda LeBar first auditioned when she was 18. It was only after her third audition that the Iselin resident got the call.
“Ever since seeing my first show when I was five years old, I dreamed of becoming a Rockette,” says LeBar, now 26. Beginning with ballet at her mother’s Rahway dance studio, Dancin’ in the Spotlight, LeBar has worked toward her goal. “My mom taught me everything I know,” she says. That includes the eye-high kicks that define the Rockettes’ annual Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.
Each audition for the Rockettes is an arduous two-day process, with candidates demonstrating their proficiency in ballet, jazz and tap. About 500 hopefuls arrive on day one, with a select group invited back 24 hours later. The best of the best commit to a full-time rehearsal schedule each fall—six days a week, six hours a day. Even veteran performers must re-audition each year.
At 5 feet 8 inches tall, LeBar is considered average height among the performers. “On the line, the tallest women are placed in the middle, with the women on each side getting progressively less tall, to create the illusion that we are all the same height,” she explains. “We also each kick to our own eye level, to keep our eye-high kicks very precise.”
Do the Rockettes really insure their legs? “Nope, that’s a myth,” LeBar says.
Off season, many of the dancers stay in shape by taking exercise classes, performing on Broadway, and working as fitness instructors. LeBar is employed as a dance teacher at her mom’s studio.
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The 2019 Christmas Spectacular runs November 8–January 5. All 80 Rockettes (including 14 with New Jersey roots) are organized into two casts of 40—that’s 36 onstage dancers and four extremely versatile swing dancers per show. Each cast performs up to four shows a day.
The Rockettes trace their roots to 1925 and a St. Louis troupe known as the Missouri Rockets. They debuted at Radio City in December 1932, and for several decades were featured nightly, along with a world-premiere movie. These days the Rockettes do special events as well as the annual Christmas Spectacular.
One of the troupe’s most iconic precision routines is the Parade of Wooden Soldiers, performed by every Rockette since 1933. “We love hearing the audience gasp as all 36 of us fall back on each other like dominoes, wearing our soldier costumes and 3-foot-tall hats,” LeBar says.
Even the costuming is precise. One crew member is responsible for straightening each hat’s tall feather. Crew members also conceal miniature microphones inside the heels of the dancers’ custom tap shoes and make sure that each gold dress for the finale sparkles with more than 3,000 Swarovski crystals.
“We are a sisterhood, especially during the holidays,” says LeBar. “We continue that friendship throughout the year.”
For some, the Rockettes are a family affair. LeBar’s younger sister, Amarisa, is a third-year Rockette. This season’s lineup includes three other sets of siblings.
“Each of us had the same dream as a little girl,” says LeBar. “Knowing that other children in the audience have the same aspiration is what keeps us kicking.”Click here to leave a comment