Just For Kicks: Meet The Rockettes

 In Culture, Interviews

In anticipation of the Rockettes’ upcoming run at Peabody Opera House, Nov. 8-17, ALIVE Magazine had the pleasure of meeting two of the Radio City Rockettes, Samanatha Beary and Nicole Schuman. Schuman has been a Rockette for 11 years, Beary for four—both have been dancing their whole lives. We chatted about the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, what spectators can look forward to this year and how St. Louis is the place where it all began.

The Rockettes' Radio City Christmas Spectacular
ALIVE: How does one go about becoming a Rockette?
NS: As with most Rockettes, we aspired to it—it’s something that we have always wanted to do. To be a Rockette, you have to be proficient in ballet, tap, jazz and of course the world famous eye-high kicks. When you audition, those are the things they test you on. Most of us grew up training with that in the backs of our minds. So, once you turn 18 and you’re between 5’6″ and 5’10.5″, you go to the music hall and you wait in line with 500 other women for a two-day audition. It’s a lot of work just to audition and get in the door. Then, you wait for the call like everybody else. The majority of us grew up dancing with this in mind.

ALIVE: Did you ever get the chance to see the Rockettes perform when you were younger?
SB: The first time I saw them, I was eight years old. We drove through an ice storm from Philadelphia to New York, because all I wanted to do was see the Rockettes. I was just blown away by their strength and precision. They are the most well-known precision dance line in the world. To see it live is just stunning.
NS: The awe that you are in when you watch these women on stage is amazing. I can say after 11 years that I’m still in awe every time I watch it. We train six hours a day, six days a week, for at least three weeks before we come on stage when you see us. The degree of precision that we obtain and strive for grows every year. It never ceases to amaze me. I know that my family says the same thing.
SB: My husband comes at least seven times a year to the show. He still says “every time I see it, it’s still amazing.’”
NS: There’s so much going on on-stage between the Rockettes, Santa, the children, the set changes…

ALIVE: Don’t forget the double-decker bus
NS: Exactly—there’s always something new. I’m always like, “I didn’t know that was happening!”

ALIVE: What were you feeling the first time you performed as a Rockette? When did it become real to you?
SB: It was very surreal. You walk out on stage and you’re just like, “Wow, this is really happening.” The moment it really hit me was my first kick line. To feel the power of everyone in one line, kicking together—that’s when the thought went through my head: “I’m really a Radio City Rockette.”
NS: There’s an energy onstage that you don’t find anywhere else. Including different shows, too. A lot of us have performed in different shows and different productions, but here we are all working towards the same goal. As 18 women in a line on stage, every single one of us needs to succeed in order for the whole show to succeed. You can feel that energy from the women around you. We do up to four shows a day with 300 kicks a show. On that fourth show, yeah, we are exhausted.

ALIVE: Are the ladies who tour different from the ones who perform in New York?
SB: Yes, actually we have two full casts that perform in New York and then we have two casts that tour. One will be in Nashville, and the other group is the one that will be in St. Louis, Dallas and Chicago. We are all Rockettes, though, there’s no differentiation.
NS: One year you could be in New York, and another year you’re on the road. It just depends. As much as we might love spending our holidays with our own families, it’s nice to see how other cities spend their holidays. We get to see how St. Louis spends Christmas, or Nashville, for example. You get to experience places you might not ever see otherwise.

ALIVE: Speaking of St. Louis, I understand that the Rockettes originated in here in St. Louis as the “Missouri Rockets.” Could you explain a bit of the Rockettes’ history?
SB: We were created here in St. Louis in 1925 by Russell Market as the “Missouri Rockets.” Then, when they first travelled to New York, they started performing at [Radio City] Music Hall in 1934 and they turned into the “Roxyettes,” named after Roxy Rothafel. Then they became the “Radio City Rockettes. We’ve been a mainstay at the Music Hall for the past 85 years…and we don’t look a day over 21!

ALIVE: What is new about this year’s performance in St. Louis?
SB: We have two brand new numbers that St. Louis hasn’t seen before, and also the storyline and the narration is very different this year. A huge thing is we have is a 50-foot LED wall that is really going to bring all the numbers to life. In the beginning, we start out as Santa’s reindeer and the LED wall actually shows clouds moving, so it really looks like we are flying. The LED wall also makes the double-decker tour bus look like it is driving through the streets of New York and turning. So the bus moves while the screen moves, and we are moving at the same time. It is unbelievable!
NS: That particular number is one of my favorites. We come here on tour because not everyone can make it to New York on Christmas. We are making memories for families in New York City, so it is cool for us to bring a piece of New York to St. Louis. On this double-decker tour bus scene you get to actually see what Christmas is like in New York City.
SB: Out final number is new as well. It’s called “Let Christmas Shine” and it is a nod to our vintage heritage. What we have come from and where we are going. Our costumes are stunning with 3000 Swarovski crystals…I think “Let Christmas Shine” really shows what we are and who we are as Rockettes. It is a great piece for our 85th Anniversary, especially coming back to St. Louis where it all started. There is a video during this scene that shows Rockettes “then and now” clips, how we are this empowered group of women who have lasted all these years.

ALIVE: With all these new scene additions, will we still be seeing some of the original favorites as well, like “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers?”
BOTH: Of course! People come back year after year just for those numbers! It’s amazing how we can march in such a straight line and fall together. We’ve actually been fortunate to work with the Marines, and they will come see our shows and be like, “How do you stay in such straight lines like that?”

ALIVE: Would you say that that is your favorite scene? Do either of you have an absolute favorite scene?
SB: “Let Christmas Shine” is my favorite scene. Purely because you just feel so glamorous to be dripping in crystals…because that’s what it literally looks like. It’s an amazing feeling. The headpiece is very vintage, very 1940s. That scene just gives me the goosebumps every time.
NS: I think my favorite number would have to be, honestly, “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” It’s what got me as a child. It’s such a beautiful thing, those costumes haven’t changed and the choreography hasn’t changed. It worked back then and it still works today and it’s still beautiful. The first time you see it, it is just stunning. We really have to work together and feel each other. The brim of the hat covers everything up. We can really only see our feet.

ALIVE: Do you have any particular places you like to visit while you’re here?
SB: I actually plan to try some barbecue. I’m from North Carolina originally so I like to try the different types of barbecue regionally. I like to see which places are the best.
NS: One of my close friends said that Imo’s Pizza is the place to go when you’re in St. Louis. We love our pizza, so we will have to try that. We train six hours a day, six days a week, and we do four shows a day so we can eat all the pizza and Christmas cookies we want!

ALIVE: As far as travelling on the road, how do the Rockettes manage to eat healthy during these long tours? Any tips?
NS: Really we just stick to the basics: vegetables, fruit and proteins. Also hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

ALIVE: Now for aspiring Rockettes, do you have any advice? I know you have a Rockettes Summer Intensive, could you explain a bit about that?
SB: I actually did the Summer Intensive once, and I got the job the year after I did it. It is a great training tool for girls who want to do this as a career. You get a full taste of what it is like to be in our shoes. It’s a six-hour day and it’s six days long. You have a mock audition at the end where you do get feedback from a Rockette director as well as our dance captains. You know what to go home and work on, which is a really great tool. Every group gets to perform at the end, and all week you are learning the numbers that we do. It really prepares you for the audition, so when you get into that room you know what to do. You know the technique, you know what they are looking for and you’ve had the feedback.
NS: It is so rare that you get feedback from the directors you are seeking to please in the dance profession. It’s such a lovely tool.

ALIVE: What advice can you give to a dancer just starting out?
SB: Train in all three forms, ballet, tap and jazz. When you are taking your classes, really pay attention to detail because that is so important. Our detail is what makes us a precision line, and that is what the directors look for in the auditions. How quickly you pick up the moves is important. We only rehearse three and half weeks for each 90-minute show. We learn a number or a number and a half a day in rehearsals.

NS: There’s always one more kick line you can remember! We are like football players, only we have to look pretty. We have to make it look like it is nothing up there. We just did 300 kicks and made it look good!

ALIVE: Speaking of looking good, let’s talk a little bit about these costumes you’re wearing. What scene is this particular one from?
NS: These are our “12 Days of Christmas” outfits. It’s an eight-minute tap routine where we playfully take you through acting out the 12 days of Christmas, and we end with the eye-high kicks. It is a sassy little number.

ALIVE: Do either of you ever get tired of Christmas?
SB: I actually start listening to Christmas music November 1. It’s an honor to be a part of someone’s Christmas tradition. Families come together to see this show. To look out in the audience and see the faces is really so gratifying.

ALIVE: I would imagine the children play a large role in that.
SB: Exactly. Well, I love the high school to college-aged guys who try to be really cool but midway through the show you can see how captivated they are. It speaks to the range of ages we touch. There’s really something for everyone in this show.
NS: As a child, I was a Christmas-aholic, if that exists. I loved Christmas movies, presents, music…everything. I never grew out of that, and in a way I’m still a big kid. When I see the little girls out there and they’ve got their red dresses on and they’re psyched, I know how they feel because I was there. This means so much to them and this means so much to me to be able to do that for them.

See Samanatha Beary and Nicole Schuman perform with the Radio City Rockets in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Nov. 8-17 at Peabody Opera House. A portion of proceeds from ticket sales benefit St. Louis Children’s Hospital

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