Dancer to Dancer

Meet the Claras of the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular"

Rachel Quiner performs Clara in the Christmas Spectacular (courtesy Rachel Quiner)

Think the Rockettes are the only stars of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular? Think again. Each year, a few lucky girls share the role of Clara, who appears during the Nutcracker portion of the show. Clara gets to do some real dancing, too, including solos and pas de deux. (Past Claras include Juliet Doherty and Tiler Peck!)

Dance Spirit sat down with this year's three Claras—Emerson Alexander, JoseBella Morton, and Rachel Quiner, all 12 years old—to find out what it takes to play Clara in the Spectacular, and the best parts of sharing the stage with the world's most iconic precision dance company.


What's your favorite part of performing Clara in the Christmas Spectacular?

Emerson Tate Alexander: My favorite part is at the end of my dance when I strike my final pose sitting on the bear prince's shoulder, and I hear the crowd erupt. It's such an amazing feeling!

JosaBella Morton: Dancing on the stage of Radio City Music Hall is magical. My favorite part starts at the very beginning of the Nutcracker scene. The moment I "wake up," I try to captivate the attention of each audience member in hopes that they feel the same Christmas magic I feel at that very moment.

Rachel Quiner: I love looking out into the audience as the Nutcracker scene is just beginning. It's magical to see the lights shine down on the stage.

What are some of the challenges you've had to overcome for this role?

Emerson: Dancing on a non-traditional dance floor and having a really tall dance partner. The stage at Radio City Music Hall is wood and steel, and my dance partner is a huge bear!

JosaBella: One of the biggest challenges for me is the flooring. I'm used to dancing on a marley, so during the shows, I've added a small piece of rubber at the tip of my pointe shoes to keep from slipping.

Rachel: The first year I performed in the Christmas Spectacular as Clara, I was 10 years old. I didn't have much partnering experience and struggled to master the finger turn with the bear prince.

Emerson Alexander performing in the "Nutcracker" scene of the "Christmas Spectacular" (courtesy Madison Square Garden)

Do you still get nervous before you go onstage? If so, what do you do to calm your nerves?

Emerson: Yes! But prior to the show, I review the choreography and remind myself that I am fully prepared for the dance.

JosaBella: For the first few shows I felt really nervous, but I don't get as nervous now. Often I meditate in the wings while the Rockettes perform their "Twelve Days of Christmas number" which is right before my Nutcracker number.

Rachel: I don't get too nervous anymore. The Christmas Spectacular team does a great job preparing you for the role. Once you rehearse the steps and are comfortable with the choreography, it's fun to just go onstage and dance for the audience!

What have you enjoyed about performing with the Rockettes?

Emerson: The Rockettes are an unbelievable family of amazingly talented women who are super kind and friendly! They are wonderful role models.

JosaBella: I love the Rockettes! They bring the best energy onstage, offstage, in the wings, and throughout all of Radio City Music Hall. I've enjoyed making friends with them, too. They'll often leave good luck messages in my dressing room. Sometimes when we're on stage together or in the wings, we'll make funny faces or create little handshakes.

Rachel: The Rockettes are really nice and so inspiring! They work super hard and are very supportive of the Claras. During dress rehearsals, they always cheer for us in the Nutcracker scene.

JosaBella Morton dances Clara in the "Christmas Spectacular" (courtesy M.S.G.)

How do you keep things fresh when performing the same role over and over?

Emerson: I know that every show is special because the audience is never the same. I want the person in the front row to enjoy the show just as much as the person in the rear of the balcony.

JoseBella: I continuously try to push myself to be better with each new show.

Rachel: I enjoy performing as Clara. Even though this is my third year of dancing the role in nearly 70 shows, I never get tired of it. I see each performance as a fresh opportunity to brighten someone's day.

Dance-wise, what have you learned from performing as Clara?

Emerson: I've learned multiple partnering techniques that I'll use for future performances.

JoseBella: "Teamwork makes the dream work!" Being part of such a large and amazing cast and crew has taught me that you have to work together and be supportive of one another.

Rachel: I'm working on mastering consistency in my performances, which will help me in the future. When I feel tired or am having an off day, I try to push through it to deliver a great performance.

The 2017 Claras (from left): Emerson Alexander, Rachel Quiner, and JosaBella Morton (courtesy Rachel Quiner)

If you were to give advice to next year's cast of Claras, what would you say?

Emerson: I would say…congratulations! This will be an amazing experience. Do what you love and love what you do.

JoseBella: Take it all in! Work hard. Be yourself. Live each day thankful that you get to be here and dance on this amazing stage. It has truly been an honor and dream come true to play Clara in the Christmas Spectacular.

Rachel: Don't take a single moment for granted. Soak up every second of the experience. It all goes by so fast. I've made such wonderful friendships with the cast and crew of the Christmas Spectacular and I dearly love each one of my Clara sisters from these past three years!

The Conversation
Cover Story

It started with an Instagram and a leap of faith. Lucy Vallely was only 15 when she created a post voicing her desire to choreograph solos for the 2018 competition season. "I wasn't really sure what would come of it," remembers the comp-circuit standout. Soliciting choreographic opportunities via Instagram might sound like a gamble, but it's also very much in character for this now-17-year-old from Long Beach, CA. "She thrives on risks, on breaking boundaries she's previously created for herself," says Jessie Riley, Lucy's dance teacher and the owner of Westside Dance Project in Laguna Hills, CA.

In the end, the gamble paid off. Madison Taylor, who trains at The Project @ HTX in Houston, TX, was one of many dancers who jumped at the Insta post, and after a few hours in a studio together, Lucy's first professional choreographic endeavor was born. The solo, "All of Me," was an impressive debut, filled with seamless, fluid transitions and infused with an innate sense of musicality. (It was also refreshingly free of flashy tilts and turn sequences.) "All of Me" perfectly complemented Madison's sweeping movement quality—she ended up clinching first place at Radix—and it showcased Lucy's choreographic chops.

Fast-forward nearly 12 months, and the success of "All of Me" has led to an influx of choreographic opportunities. Lucy spent this past fall state- and studio-hopping, setting dozens of solos and group dances. And as she wraps up her yearlong reign as The Dance Awards' Senior Female Best Dancer, Lucy finds herself at a unique crossroads. She's still a comp kid, yet she's also on the brink of an exciting professional career. But if there's one thing this California girl knows how to do, it's go with the flow.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Season 15's Top 10 in a Luther Brown number (Michael Becker/FOX)

"So You Think You Can Dance" is back for a 16th season, and we are SO HERE FOR IT! Especially because there are tons of gorgeous dancers we're obsessed with RN and would love to see up on that "SYTYCD" stage. Here are nine people we hope are planning to audition.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

Are you a college student curious about what goes on behind the scenes at your favorite magazine? You're in luck—because Dance Spirit is searching for an editorial intern for summer 2019!

We'll be accepting applications through March 1. Internships require a minimum two-day-a-week, onsite commitment in our NYC office from June to August.

Keep reading... Show less
via joffreyballetschool.com

Summer is a great time to make new friends, broaden your horizons and get tons of dancing in at a summer intensive. As you get closer to college-age, it can also be a great time to get valuable information and extra training that can come in handy later when you're thinking about college auditions. With 19 summer programs running throughout the U.S. (plus a ballet intensive in Genoa, Italy, and a musical theater intensive in London), Joffrey Ballet School offers a wide variety of experiences that give you both top-notch dance training and a taste of what college life will be like:

Keep reading... Show less
How To
Photo by Joe Toreno

With over one thousand Instagram posts showcasing her latest improv practice or snippet of competition choreo, it's safe to say Lucy Vallely is never not creating. But how does she avoid burnout? Here, she shares her key tactics for staying inspired and energized, in and out of the studio.

Keep reading... Show less
See photo credits below

What inspires you most as a dancer? What keeps you going on the days when the motivation just isn't there, and makes you feel like all the hard work, rejection and sacrifice is worth it for the pursuit of your dream? What makes you want to run into an empty studio and create something new?

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over four decades of experience, often hangs posters with dance-related quotes on the walls of her studio, on everything from creativity to the hustle to the importance of teamwork. Sometimes the right words from dancers who have been there are just the push you need to spark your imagination and remind yourself why you love what you do.

In that spirit, here are 10 inspiring quotes from dancers on what their art form means to them, and why it's worth fighting through the hard parts:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
A still from one of the Dance in Paradise videos

Forget everything you thought you knew about Polynesian dance. French filmmaker Nyko PK16, who's based in Tahiti, has created a video series that showcases the beauty of the under-appreciated form in a unique way.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Via @chelshightower on Instagram

From competing on "So You Think You Can Dance" to performing on "Dancing with the Stars" for seven seasons (and earning an Emmy nomination for her work on the latter), Chelsie Hightower has lived the pro dance dream. Though Hightower retired from "DWTS" several years ago and now teaches and choreographs in her home state of Utah, she admits that her dance career exceeded even her own high expectations. "I've accomplished things that I didn't know were possible," she says.

But most fans of "DWTS" would never have guessed that while filming, the talented and seemingly fearless ballroom pro was facing her fiercest competitor off-camera. Hightower has struggled with anxiety for most of her life, but the issue became especially severe during her years on the show.

With the help of therapy and other coping exercises, Hightower has found healthy ways to manage her anxiety. Now, she hopes that sharing her experience will inspire other dancers struggling with mental illness to get help.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Season 15's Top 10 in a Luther Brown number (Michael Becker/FOX)

"So You Think You Can Dance" is back for a 16th season, and we are SO HERE FOR IT! Especially because there are tons of gorgeous dancers we're obsessed with RN and would love to see up on that "SYTYCD" stage. Here are nine people we hope are planning to audition.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Colder weather is (finally) here, which means it's time for a good dance movie binge. But which iconic films should you put on? To narrow your search, we went ahead and ranked 30 of the greatest dance movies of all time.

Of course, we know a list like this is bound to be controversial—so if you disagree with our lineup, have at it in the comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story

It started with an Instagram and a leap of faith. Lucy Vallely was only 15 when she created a post voicing her desire to choreograph solos for the 2018 competition season. "I wasn't really sure what would come of it," remembers the comp-circuit standout. Soliciting choreographic opportunities via Instagram might sound like a gamble, but it's also very much in character for this now-17-year-old from Long Beach, CA. "She thrives on risks, on breaking boundaries she's previously created for herself," says Jessie Riley, Lucy's dance teacher and the owner of Westside Dance Project in Laguna Hills, CA.

In the end, the gamble paid off. Madison Taylor, who trains at The Project @ HTX in Houston, TX, was one of many dancers who jumped at the Insta post, and after a few hours in a studio together, Lucy's first professional choreographic endeavor was born. The solo, "All of Me," was an impressive debut, filled with seamless, fluid transitions and infused with an innate sense of musicality. (It was also refreshingly free of flashy tilts and turn sequences.) "All of Me" perfectly complemented Madison's sweeping movement quality—she ended up clinching first place at Radix—and it showcased Lucy's choreographic chops.

Fast-forward nearly 12 months, and the success of "All of Me" has led to an influx of choreographic opportunities. Lucy spent this past fall state- and studio-hopping, setting dozens of solos and group dances. And as she wraps up her yearlong reign as The Dance Awards' Senior Female Best Dancer, Lucy finds herself at a unique crossroads. She's still a comp kid, yet she's also on the brink of an exciting professional career. But if there's one thing this California girl knows how to do, it's go with the flow.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending-posts
Past "SYTYCD" hopefuls at The Academy (Adam Rose/FOX)

More fabulous TWall routines. More passengers on the Hot Tamale Train. MORE CAT DEELEY BEING DELIGHTFUL.

That's right, y'all: "So You Think You Can Dance" was just renewed for a 16th (!) season, to air this summer on Fox. And audition dates have already been announced.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
It includes this familiar face! (Erin Baiano)

Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?

Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.

Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Dancer Tony Bellissimo on the field at Super Bowl LII (via Instagram)

The Super Bowl is America's most-watched television event. Last year, when the incomparable Justin Timberlake took center field for the halftime show, more than 106 million viewers were watching his every move—and that's not even a record!

What's it like to perform for such an incredibly huge audience? Dancer Tony Bellissimo has plenty of experience with high-pressure dance gigs, having worked with artists including Rihanna, Britney Spears, John Legend, and Chris Brown. But stepping out alongside Timberlake during last year's halftime show was a next-level experience. We talked to Bellissimo about how he scored such a coveted job—and how he handled the pressure.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
screenshot via @donte.colley on Instagram

Y'all, it's time to call a spade a spade: The first month of any New Year kind of sucks. It's way too cold, you're probs failing at one or two of those ambitious resolutions, and spring (with its exciting performing opportunities) feels so very far away. And yet, in the midst of so much darkness, a hero has emerged. His name is Donté Colley, and you're about to double-tap every single thing he's ever posted.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Joe Toreno

It's almost 2019 and the ballroom dance scene is positively booming! From prestigious world championships to TV shows, kids are at the core of all this hip-shaking action—and we're so here for it. These eight up-and-comers in particular are shaping the field. They're the next generation of superstars to make the leap from technically exquisite ballroom-ites to bona fide celebrities.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Everyone loves a good meme, and dancers are no exception. Here are 10 of the best dance memes on the internet.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways