Midwesterners will not have to jet off to see the Radio City Rockettes’ holiday spectacular this year. Instead, the dancing troupe will tap its way to Omaha a series of shows at the Orpheum Theater.
The Rockettes will make their Omaha debut in “Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes” Nov. 13-30. The Rockettes will have 34 performances during the show’s run.
When the Rockettes take the stage, the cast will have a Nebraska flavor, as one of its dancers hails from the Husker state.
Rachel Borgman is from Norfolk, about two hours northeast of Omaha. Rachel has been with the Rockettes for 10 years.
“I’m so excited to be back in Omaha…as a Rockette,” she said during a bloggers’ meet and greet at Holland Performing Arts Center.
Rachel was joined by Karilyn Surratt during the Omaha visit to promote the show.
Karilyn is a Midwesterner, too. She is originally from Oklahoma, but grew up in St. Louis. She’s been with the Rockettes for a decade.
The Radio City Rockettes have 120 dancers in four casts – two in New York and two that travel. Karilyn will be New York-based, while Rachel will be part of the Omaha cast. The Omaha team will also perform in Houston.
Rachel said she likes to take advantage of off days while on the road, taking in the sights. The cast usually gets one day off a week during tours.
“I love looking for new things to do – restaurants, attractions,” she said. “I won’t lie. It was great spending Christmas in California.”
Her favorite city on tour thus far has been Kansas City, she said.
What goes into being a Radio City Rockette?
Lots of rehearsal time, both dancers said. They ensure they eat healthy diets, as well.
While athletic, neither claimed to be great athletes.
“You don’t want me to throw a ball in this room,” joked Karilyn.
Rachel, though, grew up with two brothers, so she said she had to be more athletic. She played sports in addition to dancing.
About 500 women audition to join the Rockettes each spring and summer. Women must be at least 18 years old and between 5’ 6” and 5’ 101/2”. Audition runs for 2 days.
It’s common to see would-be Rockettes lined up around the block, waiting for their chance to make the big time, Rachel said.
It took the Nebraskan four times before she became a Rockette. She didn’t make it past the first day on her initial attempt. The second time, she advanced further.
She survived the two-day period on her third attempt. They measure the dancers for costumes during that time. The final step was receiving the word she made the squad. Time passed and she realized it wasn’t going to happen that time.
The third tryout reenergized her.
“I knew what they wanted. I went back into the dance studios and worked harder,” she said.
That determination paid off. She made the dance team on her fourth attempt. All dancers must audition annually, including veterans like Rachel and Karilyn.
All Rockettes will meet in late September or early October to start the season’s rehearsals. They will be involved with show prep and production until January.
Rachel performs with other dance groups and choreographers for films and music videos, as well as having performed in industrial shows for companies, such as target and Shellac nails.
Karilyn has performed on the Rockettes’ TV specials and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She has also appeared on several television programs, including “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Martha Stewart Show,” and “The Ellen Show.” She was in a TV promo for Super Bowl XLVI in New York.
The dancers’ athleticism and conditioning will play a big role during the Christmas shows. The performances require seven costume changes and some heavy accessories.
The reindeer costume has a heavy headdress, both Rockettes said. The antlers are 17 inches long and weigh a lot, with light bulbs and wires attached. While a challenge for the dancers, audiences seem to enjoy it.
“It’s one of the audience’s favorite costumes,” Rachel said.
One of the dancers’ favorite costumes is for the “Shine” performance. The sparkly outfit has more than 3,000 Austrian crystals adorning it.
Fans can expect to see the following performances during the holiday show: “The Wooden Soldier,” “The Rag Dolls,” “The Reindeer,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “New York at Christmas” and “Shine.”
More than 100 people will be involved with the Omaha production. The cast will feature 18 dancers (and two “swings”), 14 singers, two children and Santa Claus. “Swings” are dancers who are trained for each Rockette’s steps. They can step in if necessary at any time during the show.
The show will feature a double-decker bus during “New York at Christmas.” It weighs 7 tons. It’s 34 feet long and 12 feet high. It will actually accrue 14 miles onstage during its three weeks in Omaha.
The Rockettes will perform 300 eye-high kicks each performance. For the days they have four shows, that’s going to be 1200 kicks. Ouch!
As they do their kicks, few people know they do not hold on to the dancer next to them. They do a “fabric touch,” where they lightly slide their hand where they can sense the other dancer’s costume, Rachel said.
We all know who the Radio City Rockettes are, but do many of us know how they came to be? I didn’t until recently.
The first Rockettes took the stage at the Radio City Music Hall in New York 85 years ago. However, their roots started in England.
John Tiller founded “The Tiller Girls” in 1885. He revolutionized chorus dancing by introducing a straight line of girls with uniform height and weight dancing in precision. They formed straight lines and geometric shapes. He brought the “Pony kick” to Paris. It was the precursor to the eye-high kicks.
The dance group came to the United States in 1900 to be part of “The Ziegfield Follies.”
In 1925, Russell Markert created the “Missouri Rockets” in St. Louis – a dance group 16 women. He took the idea from Tiller and wanted to add his own touch. He used taller women with longer legs.
He took his troupe to New York in 1927. They danced at the “Roxy” and became known as the “Roxyettes.”
Showman “Roxy” Rothafel collaborated with John D. Rockefeller to get the women to dance at Rockefeller’s new theater, Radio City Music Hall. The rest, as they say, is history. The Christmas Spectacular debuted in 1933.
Tickets are available for the Omaha shows and start at $35. Tickets can be purchased at the Holland’s ticket office or at www.ticketomaha.com.
For more information on the Radio City Rockettes and the Omaha Christmas program, please visit www.ticketomaha.com/productions/Radio-City.
You can also check out the Rockettes’ holiday shows via You Tube: Radio City Christmas.