Heather Langham was working at Tournament Players Club in Valencia when she decided her dream was worth one more try.
The vivacious young woman, a graduate of Arizona State University, was in Southern California to pursue a career in entertainment. The daughter of a dance studio owner, she had a degree in dance and years of practice behind her and a chance to audition – for the sixth time – for the Radio City Rockettes, her dream.
“I wanted to give it one more chance,” Langham said, sitting in the “Kickback Lounge” upstairs at Radio City, dressed in a red velvet and white fur-trimmed costume and wearing an ear-to-ear smile.
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“I got the job in 2009 and came to New York City,” she said. “It’s amazing to be up on stage, dancing in front of 6,000 people. It’s just breathtaking.”
“My mom owned a dance studio when I was growing up, so being a Rockette was always a dream of mine, but because we lived on the West Coast, we only got to see the Rockettes in the Macy’s Parade. I remember when I was little saying that I wanted to be a Rockette.”
She danced in high school and college, and when auditions were held on the West Coast, she tried six times in a span of 10 years, landing a spot in the kickline in 2009.
Rockettes have to be skilled in three areas of dance: ballet, tap and jazz.
“It takes a lot of cross training and making sure you’re physically ready for the job,” she explained. “Lots of cardio because your endurance level has to be up; definitely ballet classes, yoga, Pilates, anything that can work your core so that you’re prepared to stand in line next to 36 women and kick.”
To prepare for the grueling run of the Christmas Spectacular, which opens just before Thanksgiving and runs through early January, Rockettes endure daily six-hour rehearsals throughout the month of October.
It’s then that the dancers learn their spots in the line, the choreography, the props, special tricks to make the footwork look like magic. Over and over and over, the women are taught each of the 12 numbers that make up the show which has become a holiday tradition for millions of fans.
Rockettes have to be women, but there are men (and other women) who perform during costume or scene changes during the Spectacular. And the rumor that they all have to be the same height? Not true, but there is a little bit of optical illusion going on. Rockettes must be between 5’ 6” and 5’ 10 ½” in height; the tallest Rockette is placed in the middle with shorter girls on the ends, creating the vision of a uniform height on the kickline.
Langham smiled when asked if she’d ever kicked anyone during rehearsals or shows.
“I kicked someone in the last show,” she said, referring to a morning performance. “Not on purpose, of course. Sometimes the stage is slippery and wet and you fall, but we just get back up and dance.”
There are two teams of dancers; gold and blue, comprised of 36 dancers and 4 “swings” who are ready to come on if something disastrous happens. The swings have to know over five girls’ tracks in the show and be familiar with every single spot.
The cast performing the day of Langham’s interview was using its four swings and had a swing dancer from another show standing by. During the matinee performance, a dancer couldn’t perform and the swing was too short for the spot, so Langham said there was a hole in the formation – but true to the professionals that they are, they smiled and kicked right through it, and the audience never knew there was a problem.
A typical Rockette day includes two to four shows a day, with a maximum of 17 shows per week. Langham said she gets to the theater about 90 minutes before her first show, has something to eat and does her hair and makeup. About a half-hour before the show, she’s warming up on the stage.
To relax, the girls sit and listen to music in their dressing rooms, most of the time with their feet up. An athletic training department is backstage to care for strained muscles and sore feet.
What would Langham say to little girls dreaming of joining the kickline?
“Keep working hard, keep going after it,” she said. “The only way that I was able to really achieve my dream was to stay focused and know that it was what I really wanted to do. I had to set other things aside, stay in my dance classes instead of hanging out with my friends, and give it 110 percent.”
Aspiring dancers can take advantage of programs such as the Rockette Experience – a three-hour workshop taught by a Rockette in one of their actual rehearsal halls, where participants learn the kickline and participate in a mock audition; girls must be age 10 and up and have training in tap and jazz dance.
For serious dreamers, the Rockettes Summer Intensive program offers them a chance to spend a week, six hours a day, working with the Rockettes and a director/choreographer. Girls must be 14, have five years continuous training in jazz, tap and ballet and audition for a spot in the program.
Information about those programs are available at www.rockettes.com
Langham has eight costume changes, some that must be completed in a minute or less. Each girl has a dresser backstage, and Langham said that the movement backstage is as choreographed as the show itself.
“The fastest change is from the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers to Christmas In New York,” she said. Asked about the most uncomfortable costume, she said the reindeer costumes that open the show might win the prize.
“We’ve got bells all over us and this huge had with antlers and lights,” she said. “People might think Wooden Soldiers, but actually, that costume is comfortable and allows us to stay upright and stiff, which we need.”
The Wooden Soldiers number has been a signature piece for the Rockettes since their debut in 1933.
“It’s a lot of hard work and it’s the one number that I stress about the most,” she explained. “We are just walking around, but trying to create that special visual effect. We’re very cautious about it, too. (The number involves the line of dancers leaning back and falling down almost in slow-motion). We learned it in sections of six, adding more little by little until we had a full group of girls. There were spotters all along the line. It’s all about breathing and keeping your stance, but we’re very specific about what we have to do to get the fall to go the way it goes.
When we asked her how long she wants to be a Rockette, Langham said “As long as my legs will let me,” beaming a broad smile.
“I think 5 to 7 years is my goal,” she said. “I work with lots of college and high school dance teams, so I think I’d like to teach dance at a local studio, or on some other level.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes will be performed at the Nokia Theater LA Live December 9-12.
Here’s more information about the West Coast show:
In 2008, the brand new Arena tour debuted to rave reviews with the launch of the biggest production in the show’s 78th year history and redefined family entertainment in an Arena setting. Due to overwhelming success, in 2009 the tour expanded to cities across North America making it the largest Christmas Spectacular tour ever. This year the tour will travel to cities including, The Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Wichita and Colorado Springs. The growth of The Christmas Spectacular Arena tour will allow new audiences to experience the magic of this one of a kind holiday production.
This newest production was specifically designed for large-scale venues and replicates on a grand scale the exact production of The Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. Audiences are taken on a theatrical journey that the entire family can enjoy together. Children thrill as Santa takes the audience on a magical sleigh ride to the North Pole, while parents marvel at the unparalleled precision dance of the Radio City Rockettes. The Christmas Spectacular is truly unique in its universal appeal to people of all ages. From small children to grandparents, this dazzling holiday production is guaranteed to bring smiles to their faces and help create wonderful family memories to last a lifetime.
“The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is the #1 live holiday production in the world and has been a cherished part of holiday family traditions for generations,” said Don Simpson, executive vice president, Productions, MSG Entertainment. “We are thrilled to build upon the past two year’s successes and expand this extraordinary tour to the west coast. We look forward to bringing the spirit and warmth of our holiday production to new audiences with the traveling Christmas celebration.”
Directed and choreographed by Linda Haberman, who conceived and directed the critically acclaimed 75th celebratory show at Radio City Music Hall, the Arena production was specifically designed to play in large venues scaled to capacities ranging from 7,000 – 12,000. This multi-faceted theatrical touring production was completely constructed for an arena space, allowing the audience to experience the magic of The Christmas Spectacular like never before. Hitting the road in November, the show celebrates Christmas with show-stopping Rockette numbers, dazzling costumes, dramatic arena lighting effects, breathtaking imagery, and festive musical compositions.
“My vision for the Rockettes and The Christmas Spectacular has always been to explore scale and take the precision dance form to new levels, whether in a theatrical venue or an arena space,” said Linda Haberman, director and choreographer for The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. “In my view, the mark of a true classic is that it is timeless, relevant and can be re-interpreted to push artistic boundaries.”
The production is enhanced by an immense LED screen that transports the audience from a wintry landscape to Times Square to Santa’s Workshop right before their very eyes. The larger than life sets and awe-inspiring special effects allow families to connect with both the intimacy and grandness of The Christmas Spectacular as they are immersed in the warmth and grandeur of the holiday spirit. From the moment guests settle into their seats, the audience becomes part of the Spectacular’s magical experience.
Fan-favorites like the legendary “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” which continues to set the standard as the signature Rockette number for precision performance, and the “Living Nativity” remain a vital part of the show’s core. And the Rockettes will undoubtedly bring the audience to their feet with a Rockette finale “Let Christmas Shine,” which honors and celebrates the Rockettes as the stars of the show.
For more than three-quarters of a century, the Radio City Rockettes have entertained millions of families with their eye-high kicks and unparalleled precision dance. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular creates wonderful memories for more than two million patrons each year and has been enjoyed by approximately 69 million people in 63 cities since its inception in 1933. The Rockettes are an American treasure and their performance style has always been both entirely glamorous and deceivingly complex. As the stars of the legendary Christmas Spectacular, the Rockettes move this new production forward as they showcase their signature precision dance style and debut some of the most challenging and freshest Rockette numbers that have ever been conceived.
Groups of 10 or more are ON SALE NOW and save 15-25%, depending on group size. For Nokia Theatre L.A LIVE call 877-234-8425 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Individual tickets for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular range from $35.00 to $89.00 (plus applicable service charges). Tickets will be available through all Ticketmaster outlets including the venue box offices, online at www.ticketmaster.com or via Phone 800-745-3000. A limited number of GOLD CIRCLE seats and MEET the ROCKETTES packages are available through Ticketmaster or group sales. For more information please visit www.radiocitychristmas.com.