I have lived a thousands lifetimes this month.
The holiday season & bustle
The bright lights of the season
The triggers of my past
Feeling time slipping through my fingers
The insanity of December and a schedule that says
All wrapped up in a giant bow of intention. The intention to just be “ok” with where I am.
And isn’t that the biggest challenge we all face?
And in the bright lights of the city, I found myself asking the question,
What does Christmas mean to me today?
Christmas was defined by so many things in my past, including performing.
Beautiful costumes, full houses, and music filling the stage as I danced. And for a few years, specifically, as I kicked.
This past week, I went to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with three friends, two of whom had never seen the show before. My one friend, visiting from Paris, wanted the thrill of seeing the show with a Rockette, and I was happy to oblige.
As the lights exploded all around us in the Music Hall, I felt the child-like glee of the season fill me, and came to the front of my seat, already dancing to the Orchestra swell.
The line looked strong, and as I watched them kick in unison, I found myself remembering all of it.
I remembered the thrill of performing the show. I remembered the glamour, and I remembered all the hard work.
The lightening fast costume changes, the carb-loading in the morning, the ice baths at night, and the endless red lipstick and bobby pins.
And then I remembered all the disappointment, and heartbreak.
I am not your typical Rockette story.
I actually never saw myself as a Rockette. I saw myself as a dancer in the ensemble. I was technically, a half inch too short. But more than that, I just didn’t believe I was the kind of dancer to be one.
The production stage manager for the Myrtle Beach company of the Christmas Spectacular, was one of my professors at Penn State. There used to be productions of the Spectacular in special cities, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was one of them.
He had pulled me aside in college and talked to me about the show, and my plan was to audition to be a dancer once I graduated college.
But, things moved much faster than I planned.
A couple months after I graduated college, in November of 1998, I got a phone call from my professor, asking how soon I could fax a picture and resume. They had just fired one of the ensemble singers in the Christmas show and needed a replacement.
Opening Night was in a few days.
Being the late 90’s, I had to come into Manhattan from Queens to find a fax machine, and I remember doing this at midnight.
My picture and resume was sent to Linda Haberman, the head of the Rockettes, with my professor’s seal of approval.
And within 24 hours, I was on a plane.
I learned the entire show in two days, and went on. It was a whirlwind, and also a real eye-opener for what I was capable of. The show was highly intricate, with colored lines and specific numbers on the stage I had to hit.
And I did, and in two days.
At the end of the season, I returned to the city, and when I told people I had just done the show, I always got the same response
Oh! Were you a Rockette?
And it happened so many times, I began to ask,
What was everyone else seeing I wasn’t?
So, the following year, I decided to actually audition for the Rockettes. Linda was there at the auditions and she was very pleased to see me, as I was the woman who had saved them in a crunch.
And I got it.
At 24, I traveled back down to Myrtle Beach and stepped on the stage as something I never imagined I could, a New York City Rockette.
It was incredible….and I was making the most money I had ever made, was challenged and fulfilled. I couldn’t wait to do it again!
But that wasn’t my journey.
I then went through several years of auditioning for the show, and being put on a waiting list.
I went from being the savior of the show in Linda’s eyes, to her saying to my face at an audition that my dancing was “affected”.
I was beginning to question my dancing, and my ability, all because I wasn’t being re-hired.
They even went so far as to ask if I could get on a plane within 24 hours to replace someone….and then never called me back.
A tide turned in 2005 when they hired me, and for the first time I turned them down. I had booked the 25th Anniversary tour of Evita.
Damn, did that feel good.
And then in 2006, they hired me again. So I went at the ripe age of 31 to join the line for the first time in six years.
The show had changed drastically since I did it in 1999. The schedule was far more intense with four show days, the choreography more challenging. I was being tested at my limits with stamina, and felt I was getting notes every single performance.
It was intense, but I got a positive review from my choreographer and thought…
One more year. I’ve made it now.
Radio City had other plans.
And I found myself on the waiting list again, and that was it. I did some PR for them, but my days of kicking on stage were over.
I had never worked so hard in my life to be turned down. I felt I had proven myself again and again, and it didn’t matter to them.
For many years, I distanced myself from Radio City. There was a bad taste in my mouth and a deep frustration. I didn’t feel valued.
I felt like just a number.
I worked in other theatres and when I would see women lined up to audition every year, I would turn the other way.
I felt rejected. I was back to the college student who just didn’t see herself as a Rockette.
Two weeks ago, I was invited to come speak at the Jazzed Up dance studio in Canarsie, Brooklyn.
Organized by Girls Powered Up founder, Nadine Juste, I came out to talk to the young women and girls about being a Rockette and also to share my story of becoming a dancer.
When I arrived, I watched the tail end of their hip hop class and was so taken by their spirit and raw energy, their attack on the rhythm, and ability to dance as a group.
That felt familiar.
But the real gift came in speaking with them, in answering their questions and meeting their wide eyes.
The real gift came in having an impact on what they thought was possible for themselves.
And finally, teaching them how to kick in a line just like a Rockette.
Their faces were lit up, and there it was….that reflection back at me, saying
You’re a Rockette
Their enthusiasm was a pure joy, especially seeing them so excited. And I saw THEM.
I saw their love of dance
Their attack and fire
Their legs kicking high
And most of all, the sheer joy of just expressing themselves through art.
The sheer joy we all feel when we create.
As I sat watching the Christmas Spectacular this past week, I took in the dancers, the sets and costumes…the backstage and all the memories of the show. And I felt a peace.
A peace for what was and for where I am now, reclaiming the woman who loved kicking in the lights and knowing I have an impact today.
Oh right…this is what Christmas means to me now.
This is the gift that is available to us all as we grow in our craft and careers, and as we bring all of who we are to our art.
And it’s being reflected back to us, so many times when we can’t see it ourselves, reminding us to kick high.
Reminding us of the Creative we truly are.