The Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular
There’s an extremely popular Joni Mitchell song that starts, “It’s coming on Christmas/ They’re cutting down trees”, and it is one of my absolute favorite markers of the season, despite its melancholy tone. Christmas is just one of those seasons full of feeling that runs the spectrum – and at the very tip top of the other side, the truly joyful ecstatic side, is the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
Coming on in just over a month, the variety show-inspired chorus line will run from November 18th through January 2nd, delighting audiences in the same way it has for the last 90 years. With more than 69 million spectators since the original Special debuted in 1933, the one-of-a-kind show features nine separate numbers over the 90-minute run: showcasing its performers as some of the most technically savvy and unbelievably strong athletes around. The Rockettes unique style was an intentional move from its founder and chief choreographer Russell Markert. Every decision has been made with precision since 1925 when the troupe was originally founded – just eight short years before the first Christmas Spectacular.
Dancers must be proficient in tap, modern, jazz, and ballet – and match the Rockettes’ height requirement too. Once capping at 5’6 ½”, the modern Rockette stands between 5’5” and 5’10 ½” to ensure the line of 36 dancers appears equal in stature from any perspective in the audience, the tallest women are positioned in the middle with the least tall women on the end. Arguably some of the strongest women in America, the Rockettes were also the very first entertainers to volunteer for the USO, and by the early 2000’s, marked their 75th anniversary by celebrating the 2,500 women having that have been part of this iconic line through their diamond jubilee.
Elizabeth “Liz” Peterson, a California native and lifelong dancer is celebrating her 9th year as a Radio City Rockette. Admittedly, no small feat. The dancers have to audition each year to be accepted and agree to leave family and friends behind for training that begins in October – and the 16 shows a week that persist through the new year. Difficult, sure, but Liz says “the ladies I perform with are also family – we all work together so well and it’s a true sisterhood.”
With quick costume changes (the fastest takes only 78 seconds!) throughout the show, there’s little margin for error and the Rockettes have to be as choreographed offstage as they are onstage.
“As a freshman in college, I was on a path to be an engineer but I thought I’d try auditioning for the Rockettes,” she says. “Dance has always been a big part of my family. I flew to New York, but I didn’t get called back after that initial two-day audition.” Later, after another two-day stint in the Big Apple, Elizabeth did get the call – while she was at her job dancing at Disneyland. Six hours a day for six weeks got her foot in the door, and a high kick solidified her place in the chorus line.
When she isn’t dressed for the Rockettes’ iconic “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” number, or a reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh across the stage at Radio City, Elizabeth works remotely as an HR manager for a Bay Area company, and loves getting outside in any capacity: running, hiking, biking. Being a Rockette allows her to enmesh athleticism with creativity, and see that determination and dedication can pay off.
“One of the most rewarding aspects is being able to perform for audiences and seeing the impact we can have on young women – that they see they can follow their dreams.” Another is when people say they saw the show years ago, and still think fondly of the performance today – like Elizabeth’s grandfather. Later, in Joni Mitchell’s iconic and somber tune, she wishes for a long enough river so she could ‘teach my feet to fly’. Perhaps, I think, she should have just strolled on down to Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas Spectacular.