Behind-the-Scenes with Rockette Katherine Proctor Charlier

If you think a regular Broadway schedule of 8-shows-a-week is tough, try 17! That's how many the Radio City Rockettes manage during the holiday season. North Carolina native Katherine Proctor Charlier is in her eighth year with the Rockettes and found some time to tell DS how she keeps up with the hectic pace and what it takes to be part of this NYC tradition.

Dance Spirit: Did you always want to be a Rockette?

Katherine Proctor Charlier: The first time I ever saw the Rockettes was in the movie "Annie." I didn't even think it was possible to be a Rockette because I lived in North Carolina and they were in this far-away place called NYC. Then they started touring, and in 1998 I saw a friend perform in the Chicago cast. That's when I knew that I was going to audition.

It took me four years of auditioning to get in. When I got the call asking me to be in the company, it was a dream come true!

DS: How many shows do you do each day?

KPC: Our longest day is four shows, but usually we do three. We start at 9:30 in the morning and leave around 10 at night. But it's worth it because we're only here for about two months and we're all really excited to be here.

DS: What do you eat to keep your energy up all day?

KPC: It's like preparing to run four 10K races. When I wake up, I drink water and fruit juice right away and eat a banana or bagel. When I get to the theater I eat an egg sandwich with cheese or fruit salad. Between shows we eat pasta or rice with chicken, salad or sandwiches--things that are easy on your stomach but have a lot of nutrition. I eat about six times a day, which is fun because I get to indulge a little bit more when those holiday cookies show up!

DS: How do you warm up before a show?

KPC: It's a good 20-minute warm up. I begin on the floor doing some very gentle yoga stretches, then crunches, push-ups, squats and lunges. Then I do a short barre with pliés, tendus and rond de jambes. We also have a mini-trampoline in the dressing room, so I'll jump around on that to get my blood flowing. Then I go onstage and do kicklines, jump kicks and a couple of grapevines to get my body ready for the quick footwork we do in the show. The show starts off with a bang and we finish with a kickline, so it's non-stop for 90 minutes.

DS: What are jump kicks?

KPC: Jump kicks begin in first position parallel plié. You jump straight up, kick one leg to eye-height and land on one leg.

DS: What do you do at the end of the day?

KPC: We spend about 15 minutes after the show cooling down slowly to prepare for the next day. The most important muscles to stretch are the hamstrings and quadriceps, because those are the prime movers in jump kicks, and the calves, because we're in high heels almost the whole show.

DS: When the show closes, what's the first thing you do?

KPC: I sleep until I can't sleep anymore! And then I usually go on a vacation somewhere warm. I normally take a week off and relax before getting back to class and auditions. I also catch up on correspondence; during the show's run, I don't have a lot of time to write many e-mails and return phone calls. I feel like I've neglected people during the holiday season, so I spend a lot of time catching up.

DS: You trained at Virginia School of the Arts, Charleston Ballet Theatre and Princeton Ballet School. What disciplines did you study?

KPC: I started out with ballet and took it every day no matter what. I also took jazz, tap and modern, and during summer programs I would take flamenco, hip hop and other styles that were not offered during the year, just to make sure I covered everything. The Rockettes are very athletic and the backbone is ballet, jazz and tap.

DS: What's the best part about being a Rockette?

KPC: The sisterhood and the friendships. You're with each other all day every day and you develop such strong bonds. Only other Rockettes know what you've been through--how tired you are, how hard you pushed through the day to succeed. That's a friendship that's irreplaceable.

DS: What advice do you have for dancers who aspire to be part of the Rockettes?

KPC: Never give up! I'm a really good example of that. It's very tempting to give up, but if you really want something, you have to work harder at it. The Rockettes are so strong in ballet, jazz, and tap, and I needed to work on my strength and precision. Keep taking class and seek the advice of experts. And it's not just dance classes that get you into a company like the Rockettes--you've got to be mentally focused, very friendly (because we do a lot of PR events), well-spoken and successful in school. They want to make sure that each individual woman represents the Rockettes legacy.

Photo courtesy Katherine Proctor Charlier

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