By Synthia Link, Former Rockette
I was one of those kids that could never sit still. I was always prancing around my house, bopping along to a sing-a-long video, or making up dances that I insisted my parents watch. When I didn’t have an audience, I would line up my dolls and stuffed animals on the stairs, and perform for my captivated audience. I begged my parents to let me go to dance classes, and once I was old enough, I began training. I spent hours upon hours at my studio, participating in every class and company that I could get into. I had a passion, and I dreamed of someday performing on the beautiful stages of New York. Today, I am lucky enough to say that I have been able to live my dream as both a Broadway performer, and a Rockette.
The years I was part of the Rockettes were some of the most incredible and humbling experiences of my life. (I was a Rockette for 5 seasons: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012.) There is no denying, being a part of this New York staple is glamorous. The Rockettes wear some of the most incredible costumes I have ever seen, and the signature French twist and red lipstick adds to the beauty of it all. The Rockettes dance in perfect precision, and are best known for their famous "eye high kicks." Yes, being a Rockette is amazing. So how do you get to be one?
To be a Rockette, the only physical requirement a dancer must fulfill is that she must be between 5’6” and 5’10” and a half. A Rockette also must be proficient in tap, ballet, and jazz. Most people think that there is a specific body type necessary to be a Rockette, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Rockettes are all individuals, and all have very different shapes. That being said, the Rockettes are all athletes. As a Rockette, you must be at your peak physical fitness.
A few months before each season started is when I seriously began training. I’m a class kinda girl, and my favorites are at Flywheel Sports. You can always find me in a Flywheel or Flybarre class. (And I am now also an instructor at Flywheel!) Spin classes are absolutely amazing for increasing both strength and cardio, and I find that barre classes help me strengthen and tone — and also seriously increase my flexibility. Barre also helps to strengthen the areas where dancers tend to be injury prone. Every Rockette has a different pre-season conditioning routine, but regardless of what each Rockette does to get ready, each woman comes to rehearsal in the best shape possible.
Why all this working out? One word: REHEARSALS. Once rehearsals start, the Rockettes are dancing for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week ... in heels! Sound intense? It is. The Rockettes spend countless hours on not only learning choreography, but perfecting it. Known for their pristine dancing, the Rockettes work really hard to achieve that standard. That being said, it is so incredibly rewarding when everything comes together and you see 36 talented women on stage, dancing their hearts out.
Now here is where the fun part begins. Show Time!!! My absolute favorite part about my time as a Rockette was performing in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. As a little girl, my family would bring me into the city every Christmas to see it, so it is truly incredible to be able to say that I’ve performed in this magical show. The Rockettes perform SIX days a week, and up to FOUR shows a day! The show is about 90 minutes long, and the Rockettes perform in a variety of gorgeous numbers (my personal favorite is “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”). What audiences don’t realize is what’s going on backstage — when the Rockettes aren’t dancing, they are changing. Some of the quick changes are only seconds long, so you can imagine that there aren’t many breaks!
The Rockettes burn tons of calories and push their bodies to the limit. When I was in “performance mode,” I always made sure that I fueled my body with nutrient-dense foods. Normally, during this time, I would start my day with a bowl of oatmeal loaded with hemp seed hearts, chia seeds, nuts, and fruit. I find that light, frequent meals work best when I am performing in a show. My favorite go-to meals/snacks are omelettes, sushi, steamed veggies and salmon, carrots and hummus, sunflower seed butter on rice cakes (I’m allergic to peanuts!), hardboiled eggs, and salads loaded with veggies, protein, and healthy fats. As a dancer, it is so crucial to eat WHOLE foods that are recognizable by the body. When I eat healthy, my body performs at its best, and when I was a Rockette, that is exactly what I needed it to do.
If you would have told that little girl dancing for her dolls that one day she would be dancing in front of thousands of people, she would have squealed. Honestly, sometimes I still do! I am so incredibly lucky to be able to live my dream. I have been a Rockette on and off for 5 years, and only stopped because I was in Broadway shows that conflicted with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. (“Big Fish,” “Bullets over Broadway,” and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying")
That being said, it has been hard work and a constant effort to stay healthy and fit. Being a dancer doesn’t begin when the curtain rises or end when it falls. It comes with daily maintenance, effort and hard work, and I can honestly say that there is nothing more worth it.
**To catch the Rockettes in action, make sure you check out Christmas in August, this Thursday, August 13, at 11 am, on 6th Avenue in front of Radio City Music Hall, where the Rockettes will be performing portions of the classic numbers, ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ and ‘Rag Dolls.’
This year’s Christmas Spectacular will run November 13 – January 3. Tickets are on sale now at radiocitychristmas.com or at the Radio City box office.
Synthia Link is a performer, holistic health coach, Flywheel instructor, and food blogger, among other things. She has been seen on Broadway in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Big Fish,” and “Bullets Over Broadway.” She was on the First National Tour of “Young Frankenstein,” a Radio City Rockette, and appeared on the TV show “Smash.” When she isn’t performing, she is in the kitchen creating recipes for her blog Cookies to Kale, or supporting her clients in their effort to reach their personal health goals. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Keith, and their dog, Cali.