Here Come the Rockettes!

A traveling production of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular sets up camp at the Hobby Center.

By Michael Hardy December 9, 2014

Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Thru Dec 28
Sarofim Hall
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby St.

The Rockettes may seem as inseparable from Radio City Music Hall as the venue’s famous neon marquee, but the high-kicking dance troupe was actually founded in St. Louis in 1925 as The Missouri Rockets before moving in 1932 to Rockefeller Center, where they’ve been based ever since. But you don’t have to fly to New York to see their annual Christmas spectacular—for the past few decades, the troupe has taken their show on the road, choosing a handful of cities to stage a holiday-long residency. This year, 18 members of the traveling company will be in Houston, staging up to four shows a day through the end of the month.  

Of course, all that high-kicking can take a toll on the dancers, who perform around 300 high kicks per show. Jessica Osborne, who will be performing in the Houston show and is now in her sixth year as a Rockette, knows the critical importance of conditioning for maintaining such a grueling schedule. “It’s just like an athlete’s season,” she told me. Her personal routine involves healthy eating, sessions with the company trainer, and ice baths after the last show of the day. “Physically, you’re being pushed to the extreme. You have to maintain and take care of your body, because that’s our instrument.”

Being a Rockette is a year-round job. When they aren’t preparing for the holiday show, the dancers are traveling around the country, visiting children’s hospitals, performing at football halftime shows, and appearing on TV programs like America’s Got Talent. Because of the intense demands, each Rockette must re-audition for her role every year. “It’s not like when you’re in, you’re in,” said Sarah Grooms, a seven-year veteran of the company who’s also performing in Houston. “So even in your seventh, eighth year, there’s never really time to relax.”

What keeps them motivated, Osborne and Grooms said, is the company’s 82-year history, reminders of which hang on the wall of their rehearsal studio at Radio City. “If you look at the pictures of the original dancers, they are just the bees’ knees,” Osborne told me, using an expression almost as old as the company. “I mean, these women had high headdresses on, and they just seemed like these giant goddesses. And I’m like, that’s us. You feel it when you’re there—their spirit, and all the things that have happened there since 1933. It gives me chills just to talk about it.”

The Houston show includes a mix of old and new numbers, and features eight costume changes, the shortest of which takes an incredible 80 seconds. As for those costumes, they’re brand new, and feature dazzling Swarovski crystals. New numbers this year include “New York at Christmas,” which features a life-size double decker tour bus on stage,” and a new closer called “Let Christmas Shine.” But traditionalists shouldn’t fear—classic numbers like “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” which has been part of the show since the 1930s, haven’t been discarded.

“Some things you don’t need to fix,” Osborne said. “It’s perfect.”


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