First-year Radio City Rockette Mara Ranson (center) in rehearsal (Carl Scheffel, courtesy MSG Photo)

A Brand-New Rockette Interviews a Veteran Rockette

Every year, hundreds of dancers audition for a chance to become a Radio City Rockette. Only a lucky few make the cut—this season, there are 13 newbies on the line—but many of them go on to perform with the Rockettes for years. Dance Spirit had the chance to listen in as first-year Rockette Mara Ranson asked 10-year veteran Corey Whalen all her burning questions about what it's really like to dance in the world's most famous kickline.—as told to Helen Rolfe


10-year veteran Rockette Corey Whalen (center) with her fellow dancers (courtesy MSG Photo)

Mara: Hi, Corey!

Corey: Hi, Mara!

M: How did you learn about the Rockettes?

C: My family got tickets when I was 16. I thought they were really amazing, but I was very shy as a young dancer—not exactly running into the next audition. When I turned 18, my teacher pushed me to audition.

M: What was that first audition experience like?

C: Petrifying! It was my first professional audition. I got there early, but the line was already wrapped around Radio City. The audition itself was intense. I had no prior knowledge, so it was all brand-new information, but I was called back for the next day. I made friends with a girl who came to the hotel where my mom and I were staying, and we practiced together overnight. The next day, I went back and made it through. But, in the end, I didn't get a call. I went to the Rockettes Summer Intensive the following summer, and got a much better idea of what the Rockettes expect, which helped at my next audition. But that first experience was nerve-racking.

M: Oh, I know. My first two or three auditions, I was a nervous wreck and didn't do well at all.

C: Your nerves get the best of you a bit!

M: What has changed for you since you started?

C: What the Rockettes do is so precise that it's almost like a math equation. My first year was so overwhelming, learning every precise detail as to where your fingertips and eyeballs are. But once you get one or two seasons under your belt, those things become second nature. Now I'm able to focus on nuances and enjoying the choreography without stressing about where my foot is going.

M: What helped that first season?

C: Honestly, the women you work with make all the difference. You're one of 13 new girls. I was one of eight. You create incredible bonds with the new dancers because you're all going through it for the first time. And the veterans you befriend are life-changing, too. A veteran swing my first year was my saving grace. She'd write down notes and little pictures that helped me.

M: Would you say that's what surprised you most—how much of a math equation it all is?

C: I think so. Plus, the workload is something a lot of dancers haven't experienced: six hours a day, six days a week. When I started, I was in a touring group, so there was only our one cast. We did insane amounts of shows back to back. Now, you're doing four shows in a day and coming back the next for more.

Whalen (seated, in the red dress) having fun with other Rockettes (courtesy MSG Photo)

M: Speaking of those four-show days: What have you found helpful to get through them?

C: The other girls! You'll get to know the seven other women in your dressing room really well. I've been with my same girls for going on five seasons. There's always someone to lift you up. My dressing room does Secret Santa during our four-show days, so there's always something to look forward to. You need it—it's a looooooooong day.

M: Those 10 pm shows, right?

C: Get ready for 'em!

M: Was there a moment when it hit you in your first season, like, "Wow, I'm a Rockette!"

C: I'm from Rhode Island and, by luck, the first city we toured to was Providence, RI. Opening night, we put on our costumes and men from the U.S. armed forces escorted us down a red carpet into the theater. They had fake snow raining down, everyone was cheering—it was such a surreal moment. To arrive at a theater that I grew up going to, knowing I was going to perform with all my family and friends there for opening night…I'll never forget it.

Rockettes in "The 12 Days of Christmas" (courtesy MSG Photo)

M: What a serendipitous moment! Do you have a favorite number in the show?

C: I honestly love "The 12 Days of Christmas." Tap isn't my strongest suit, but as my 10 seasons have gone on, I've really enjoyed getting to experience all the different "days," where you're dancing as a swan or a piper or a goose.

M: I've always loved "12 Days." It's also my favorite costume. Do you have a favorite?

C: I love that one, too. It's such a classic Rockette look, with the corset and the frilly tutu. And your family can still pick you out, without a wig or ragdoll glasses in the way!

M: Throughout your seasons of doing the show on the road and at Radio City, there've been lots of changes. Any numbers from the past that you miss?

C: I'm sure I'm not alone in this—a lot of women who've done the show also really loved "Shine."

M: It's my favorite finale.

C: I started with it on the road. The scrim comes up, there's a bluish, foggy light on us. We're in shimmering costumes covered in 3,000 Swarovski crystals, so we were just dripping in diamonds. Right before, they showed a video going through the history of the Rockettes. Hearing those words as we went up on the beautiful staircase, we felt like we were carrying on this amazing legacy.

M: We're in Christmas mode for months and months. Do you get sick of Christmas?

C: A lot of people ask me that. I don't know how you feel, but I compartmentalize. It just doesn't feel like Christmas music.

M: I was having this conversation with my sister the other day, telling her my brain doesn't even register that it's Christmas music.

C: The holidays have never been ruined for me, and it'll probably be the same for you. The show is one part of Christmas, and celebrating with your family and friends is another.

M: What has been your coolest experience as a Rockette?

C: The Rockefeller Center tree lighting. It was a smaller group of us, and we got to do "Shine." The audience is close, which is cool because you can watch them—

M: Experiencing it with you?

C: Yes! As soon as we were done, we lined up with the NBC anchors and the mayor and watched as they lit the tree up.

The famous double-decker bus in "New York at Christmas"

M: That's awesome. Any onstage mishaps that stick out in your mind?

C: One of the funniest happened on the road in Omaha, NB. We enter for "New York at Christmas" on a double-decker bus. There are two bus doors—one at the front, one at the back—but only one set of doors opened. We were looking off into the wings for our dance captain, wondering what to do. Finally, crewmen came onstage, trying to manually push the bus upstage so we had room to dance.

M: What do you think being a Rockette in 2019 means?

C: It's a testament to the company that the Rockettes have been at Radio City since 1932 and are still such a part of NYC culture. I meet families who come to the show every year, and they've seen the evolution of the Rockettes over time. Anybody can see that the intensity of the dancing has advanced over the years. It takes some pretty strong, athletic women to get through 100 shows in under two months. You'll feel like a rock star when you finish the season!

M: Final question: What has being a Rockette taught you about yourself?

C: I didn't know I could be this disciplined. It's a very intense 90-minute show with very little recovery time. On top of that, the friendships I've made are unlike anything else. I had women at my wedding that I met on day one of Rockette boot camp. You share a bond unlike any other.

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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