The Radio City Rockettes are known for their flawless kick line and megawatt smiles, but there’s much more to the legendary dance company. The precision choreography is fast-paced and physically demanding, and dancers can perform up to four times a day. To ensure that hopefuls have what it takes to join the company, auditions are designed to show the caliber of work that’s required of those hired. To get a sense of how to make it to the Radio City stage, creative director Karen Keeler, herself a longtime Rockette, and dancer Jacie Scott share what you should know on arriving at the annual open call with 500 other dancers.
What can dancers expect at the audition?
Karen Keeler: They can expect to do jazz, tap, and kick combinations. I’m very interactive; I walk through the room as they’re learning combinations and give notes. If I give a note and I don’t see it applied, that tells me a lot about their work ethic. A takeaway from the process is that they’ve learned how to work in a different way than they’ve worked before. I treat it more like a class than an audition and I try to get a sense of them as individuals. Jacie Scott: I approach Rockette auditions as if I’m going to class. I go in with the idea of putting my best foot forward, processing everything given to me, and executing it in a way that I will be proud of. I encourage myself and others to go into auditions as if they’re doing it for themselves so they don’t get distracted by everyone else or try to do what another person is doing. Focus on what you can do and take it one step at a time, because a lot will be thrown at you.
Is there a dance background Rockette hopefuls should have?
KK: I believe the basis of a strong technical foundation is ballet. Clean lines and technique really translate into choreography. But don’t limit it, because versatility is really important. I would never tell someone who doesn’t do tap not to come to the audition, because you never know what showing up might lead to. JS: They stress the importance of a ballet, tap, and jazz background, and I’m glad I had that. I added modern, contemporary, and more, and I think that taught me to pick up new styles of dance. It’s important you’re able to pick up anything that’s thrown at you. NFL cheerleading was more about projection; we’re on the field, and the crowd could be as high as the nosebleeds, but I need to project my energy to them. That has helped on the stage at Radio City.
How can someone stand out in an audition?
KK: Be yourself. I will pick up on a lack of sincerity. Don’t overdo it because you think that’s what you have to do. Be who you are and show me your true self in the room, because that’s the person I’ll end up working with. These women are never just being cheesy or overdoing it. Their performance is real, and that helps them connect to the audience. JS: I had the mentality of paying attention to the importance of applying all the details that they throw at us to my dancing but also of showing myself in it. You can put yourself in the choreography without losing the details. I tried to project that I want this job and I’m having the time of my life auditioning for them.
How are the Rockettes different from and similar to other dance companies?
KK: The Rockettes are the only dance company of its kind, but I think there could be a comparison made between the Rockettes and the corps de ballet in a ballet company where it’s about the group; the group becomes the star. But it’s the precision of these women, the exactness of every detail of their body that really makes it unique. There’s also a balance of them being individuals, and yet my focus shouldn’t be pulled towards one of them. My focus should always be on the group because that’s who the women are; that’s what the Rockettes represent.
What surprised you about the process of becoming a Rockette?
JS: The whole audition process was a shock to me the first time, because I didn’t know what I was getting into. The Rockettes make what they do look easy, and it’s not easy at all. I got a taste of that in the audition process. Learning four eight-counts that they give you in the audition process looks graceful and placed, but it takes a lot to execute it the way you’re supposed to. Once I became a Rockette, that became even more apparent to me. Not only are you doing the choreography, you’re also having to make sure you’re in the right spot. You might have to travel 3 feet to the right and 4 feet forward while you’re doing this movement, but also stay in line with the person next to you. There’s a lot more that goes into making a pretty picture than what a lot of people believe.
What advice do you have for Rockettes hopefuls?
KK: Take class as consistently as you can, take different classes, and don’t get comfortable in the same class. Take [class with] different teachers so that your brain has to work in a different way and you’re challenging how it works and is able to pick up choreography. When you’re in class, challenge yourself to execute the choreography as exactly as the teacher is teaching it. You have to start to train your brain to work that way to be a Rockette. Also, have an awareness of the people around you. The Rockettes hone in their energy together, work together, find that unity, and they start to gel as a line. That’s always part of the rehearsal process: You see the women around you doing it this way and you know you have to do it that way, too.
What did you learn from going through the process?
JS: In other auditions, it’s great to show off what you’re capable of doing, but in this audition, it’s not about that. They give you choreography and you do it. [Normally] you’re not required to execute every single thing that they tell you to do; you do the choreography but do it in your own way. Going into this audition, you might think it’s the same thing and it’s not. They say do a double turn and you do the double turn. Don’t do a triple, because they didn’t ask for the triple. Or if they say eye-level kick, don’t go past that eye, because that’s not what they asked. One thing I try to tell anyone who is auditioning or wanting to go through this audition process is: Do what they tell you to do and don’t try to overachieve in the situation. Your overachievement is being able to execute what they tell you to do in the way they tell you to do it. There are chances [when] they ask for you to show your skills, and that’s your only time. They want to see your technique, but it’s not interpretive; they also want to see that you can do the classic precision style of the Rockettes.
What programs are available to help people prepare for auditions and the experience of being a Rockette?
KK: There’s a whole dance education department here. We do what’s called Rockette Summer Intensive, which runs through the summer. They are week-long intense training programs where dancers work with the Rockettes, learn the vocabulary, and learn some of the skills. There are also Rockette experience classes that can be taken; those can be a day or two days. There are audition prep classes specific to learning how to audition to become a Rockette. The art of precision dance and what goes into that is not something that’s taught anywhere else. There are quite a few women who have become Rockettes who have done all or some of those programs. It’s an educational tool, and I think it’s like anything else: If you want to do a specific thing, you need to train in that.
What elements factor into your casting decisions?
KK: First: Do they have clean technique? Second: Do they follow directions? Can they assimilate the choreography exactly the way I taught it, with all the details? Can they apply notes? It’s really important to be present in the room and hear what’s going on and not assume that you’re just going to dance this combination the way you want to dance it, because that’s not how we do it here. Confidence is really big; if they’re confident in what they’re doing, that comes through and that’s something I like to see. Also, a joy and love of dancing and of wanting to work this way, because it’s different than other dance jobs. You have to have a desire to work that hard and to want to be a part of the team.
Want to get cast as a Rockette? Check out Backstage’s dance audition listings!