So now December has approached and there is a fresh nip to the air, it is officially time for eggnog latte’s (thanks Starbucks,) ice rinks and all things that sparkle. And with the queens of sparkle themselves about to put on their annual famous Christmas’s Spectacular, I couldn’t let this holiday season pass without talking about the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. If you haven’t ever seen them dance, check out these magical clips from their Christmas Spectacular:
Even though we’re winding down towards Christmas, for performers all over this is a hugely busy time! So I thought I’d take this opportunity, whether you’re working, training or resting to talk about the rockettes and dance. More specifically what the style and technique can do for your dancing.
The Radio City Rockettes and dance- Who and what are they?
The rockettes were first brought to my attention by a dear friend of mine, and whether you live in the big apple or not, nearly everyone’s heard of them; they are after all one of the most famous kick lines ever created. But the rockettes are famous for much more than just having legs for days. They embody the elegance and fastidiousness that harkens back to the old Hollywood era and the grace of Miss Kelly herself. This trio is a rarity these days, and they have a specific style, the likes of which isn’t seen anywhere else. In fact this style is known as precision dance and is a fusion of ballet, tap and jazz. Being one of a kind, if you hold dreams of becoming a rockette the competition is stiff. Not only do you have to be a quick study in these 3 disciplines; the rockettes are also athletes of steel and this is a must if you want to get through the process. And even if you possess all these qualities, with height restrictions between 5ft 6 and 5 ft 10.5 you may still not be eligible.
So for us dancers under 5 ft 6, what is the point of practising the technique and style of a rockette?
Why learn if you can’t be a radio city rockette?
I’m of the opinion that everything we learn as a dancer filters into the way we move and express ourselves. No one bevels or kicks quite like a rockette, so if you want to improve dancing skills and give your dancing a hint of that old era Hollywood elegance, be it for musical theatre, show girl work, tap or jazz, learning this dance style is a must.
Here are just some of the benefits you can gain by giving this style a whirl:
It will neaten your dancing and train your eye and body to pay attention to detail. After all, it’s not called precision dance for nothing. Everything is attended to, from your pinky finger right through to the slight inclination of your head, no exaggeration.
Your kicks will dramatically improve. Not only does this require strength, stamina and flexibility, but the many different types of kicks will train your body uniquely and give your muscle memory an edge. Hello improvement!
Your improved lines will become second nature. So much of what the rockettes do is about alignment, so if you want to teach your body beautiful lines, or if you’re a dancer that struggles with co-ordination, this dance style will help a lot.
The pure joy of it! If you love dance as much as I do, I have no doubt that you will love learning this style.
It’s great for training your feet control whilst on and working through demi pointe, and most especially control of the feet and body whilst working in heels.
Your hands will become cleaner (and no I’m not talkin about washing your hands!) If as a dancer you tend to carry tension in your hands, or they lose their shape whilst dancing, this style will help you train your muscle memory to carry that energy right through to the end of your finger tips.
Most importantly, if we only learn from dancers we think we can become, we HUGELY limit our learning potential. If we’re serious about how to improve dancing skills we need to look outside of our own path. I may never be a ballerina now, but I learnt SO much from doing class with a ballet company once. And it’s my belief that these kind of experiences will make us MUCH better dancers. I’m probably never going to move like Lucas McFarlane but I WILL become a better dancer by going to his classes and learning from him.
Rockette Dance Moves
So let’s get down to the important stuff. Below is a small list of Rockettes moves you can practise to improve dancing skills.
The Bevel: supporting leg is straight, other leg is bent. When executed correctly, it should look like two legs morphing into one. To practise this, turn out you’re supporting leg. (For this example, we will use a closed bevel.) Make sure your toes are aligned (so you are toe to toe.) Then finally bring your knee in towards your centre, thinking of pulling it towards your opposite hip.
Being able to do a decent bevel is invaluable as it will come up again and again, regardless of the style of choreography : it can be used in commercial, musical theatre, jazz, showgirl, the list goes on. And very often it can’t be placed at the start or end of a routine. In an audition or performance this is where it will be most noticeable. Whilst it is a seemingly straight forward position it takes some time to figure out how to make it look good on your body so make sure you don’t skip this in your practise time. It’s harder than you think to get it looking nice!
Strut kicks: genmerally take place while linked. Starting from a bevel, a strut kick has a snapping motion to it. First bring your foot up your leg to a passé (lifting the knee as high as possible.) Then flick the leg outward. Note: it should be waist height and crossed inward slightly (so it is in line with your opposing hip.) The rockettes say to think of these like a lightning bolt. They should be sharp, electrifying and clean. To help get the motion of it, you can imagine while practising that you are flicking water off your foot.
Drum roll: the world famous Eye High Kicks. Now these are not like the can can where you have to just fling you’re leg up as high as is humanly possible. These are a little lower so should be achievable for most dancers. It is the precision as well as height that makes these kicks impressive. Even if you’re not blessed with particularly loose hamstrings, this is something that with the correct amount of work and focus, every dancer can achieve. This alone will improve dancing skills.
To practise these, as the name suggests you will kick your legs alternately to eye height whilst angling them inward slightly towards your body’s centre. It is a parallel kick. Make sure you jump (just a little) once whilst kicking the leg up and once as the feet meet when it comes down. These kicks are fast and done whilst linked in a line.
Variations of eye high kicks:
Piano kicks: Execute an eye high kick. As the leg comes down, let it cross your body to tap the floor next to your supprting leg. Then after your foot lightly taps the ground, let it spring back up for another eye high kick. (To simplify this, think of it like 2 eye high kicks on the same leg with a tap in between- a bit like a pique grand battlements in ballet.)
Angle kicks: same as normal eye high kicks but instead of kicking forwards you kick on an angle. Torso and head incline slightly towards said angle.
Ronde de Jamie kick: an eye high kick which then loops around into passé before kicking back up to come down.
Pathway of the arms: arms move within a specific pathway known as elbow, wrist, hand. This can be practised as the description suggests. In this style they will always follow that pattern, regardless of which direction they’re moving or what speed. The arms follow this pathway as they are retracted also.
Guiding: The other iconic thing you may notice is that the Rockettes are in straight lines A LOT. But how do they keep so straight, even when travelling? Well, they use a process known as guiding. This is where they use their periphery to move in the space whilst keeping straight. This means that most of the responsibility will fall on the dancers at the end of the line, particularly in direction of travel.
They also have their lines marked out in a grid on the floor during rehearsals, and will either be toeing, arching or heeling the line.
Give It A Whirl
So there you go. The style and technique to precision dancing that is coined by the beautiful rockettes. This information if applied can dramatically improve dancing skills. After all, they were formed in 1925, and modelled after the Ziegfeld Follies, that’s a pretty powerful legacy we can all learn from. So don’t be afraid to step into the shoes of the rockettes and dance your socks off this holiday. After all, ‘tis the season. If you haven’t yet experienced Christmas and the rockettes together, then if you’re ever in New York at Christmas I highly recommend going to see them (it’s still on my wish list, sigh.) In the mean time check out one of my favourite Rockette clips, which also included Maddie Ziegler!