Moody lighting streams across a dance studio. As a pop anthem blasts, a supergroup of strong, confident dancers attacks intricate choreography with finesse and poise. But this isn't the latest class video to achieve viral status—it's footage of the world-famous Radio City Rockettes at work.
For almost a century, the Rockettes have been celebrated for their signature style of precision dance, which combines ballet, tap, and classic jazz to awe-inspiring effect. These 80 women (two casts of 36, plus four swings/dance captains) have always been the undisputed stars of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which is seen by over a million fans each year.
But the Rockettes are out to start some new traditions, too. When opening night of the 87th season of the Spectacular arrives later this month, the curtain will rise on one of the most diverse kicklines in Rockette history—including an unprecedented 13 fresh faces. Meet four of them here.
The Rockettes' reputation for work ethic and versatility brought Soultana Schiavi to Radio City. "I first saw the Rockettes when they toured to my hometown, and they definitely drew my eye," she says. "It's the perfect combination of technique, athleticism, and different styles of dance. Having done a lot of ballet seriously and competed for years, I wanted to continue with it all at a high level—and I thought joining the Rockettes was the best way to do that."
With a BFA in dance (with minors in English and entrepreneurship) from the University of Michigan already under her belt, Schiavi is now loving the demanding work of #RocketteLife. "I wasn't expecting to feel so accomplished every day," she says. "Every girl in the audience can find a Rockette to identify with, out of the 36 onstage. I think that especially in today's world, that's a really important message to get across."
Hometown: Buffalo, NY
Height: 5' 8 1/4"
Favorite Rockette tradition: "I really liked our team-building day towards the start of rehearsals. We were randomly assigned different tables, and given all kinds of prompts about what we have in common, what makes us different, and how our differences make us who we are. It was really fun to meet new people and talk about things that are greater than each of us individually."
Advice to aspiring Rockettes: "I was fortunate and grateful to get this job quickly after auditioning. But there are others who auditioned many times and then got the job, so there's always hope. It'll be your year at some point if you put the hard work in, keep training, and keep that fire inside you ignited."
Last November, Regan Hutsell was a senior in high school. Now, she'll be dancing as a professional for the first time on Radio City Music Hall's Great Stage. Oh, and did we mention she started training in precision-style dance earlier this year? Clearly, she was born to join the line.
This January, Hutsell—who is, fun fact, the sister of New York City Ballet corps member Rachel Hutsell—was plucked from an open audition at the International Association of Blacks in Dance and offered a full scholarship to the Rockettes Summer Intensive's prestigious Invitational Week. Several whirlwind months later, Hutsell is fully immersed in a whole new world of bevels and eye-high kicks. But there's no danger she'll get lost in the crowd. "We were rehearsing for the finale, 'Christmas Lights,' when our director told us that light in the title is the light inside you," she says. "No matter our differences or what we look like, each of us has a beautiful light within that drew us to dance, and now shines out of us."
Hometown: Houston, TX
Height: 5' 7 1/2"
Favorite Rockette tradition: " 'The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers' has been in the show since 1933, which means everybody who's been a Rockette has performed that number. 'Soldiers' is where you get your Rockette wings, because there's so much history and legacy behind it."
Advice to aspiring Rockettes: "Believe in yourself. As dancers, we're so hard on ourselves, but to do this job you need to have confidence. When you come up against barriers, just keep pushing, because one day it will pay off."
Sydney Mesher (a three-year alumna of the RSI Invitational Week, and a graduate of Pace University) auditioned several times before making the line—and that just makes the gig all the sweeter. "There's a lot of pride and significance that comes from holding this job," she says. "It's probably the closest to a 9-to-5 that a dancer will ever have, in that you get to work on your craft all day, every day."
As audiences know, that work pays off and then some. "What makes the Rockettes so inspiring as one line is that each of us is incredible at what we do," Mesher says. "We have people of different colors, different backgrounds, from different cities, from different countries, even. I was born without my left hand, but I don't necessarily consider myself disabled. I want to be known for being a good dancer who happens to have one hand—not a good one-handed dancer."
Hometown: Portland, OR
Height: 5' 10 1/4"
Favorite Rockette tradition: "The supportive environment. It can be overwhelming to enter a new job, but the returning Rockettes have invited us newbies into Rockette World with open arms, helping us get on our game quickly."
Advice to aspiring Rockettes: "Keep your determination and your joy. There is a lot of training and perseverance needed to be a professional dancer, but the whole point of the performing arts is to find the joy. The Christmas Spectacular is amazing because these dancers have worked hard and you can see they love what they do."
Abbey Kowalec and the Rockettes go way back. Having completed three summers of RSI during her years studying ballet and modern at NYC's Marymount Manhattan College, Kowalec was then chosen as an assistant for RSI and the Rockettes' workshops for young dancers. "Being at the front of the room with Rockettes in more of a work setting really helped me get a leg up—literally!" she says.
After three seasons as a Knicks City Dancer ("much more jazz and commercial dance, but a very similar cleaning process to what we do in Rockette rehearsals"), Kowalec has finally come full circle by joining the Rockette line—and she's not taking the opportunity for granted. "It's so powerful to be part of an all female-identifying company, with all of us working together to achieve the same goal," she says. "The Rockettes have performed at the Video Music Awards, the Tony Awards, and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade—they're still such a relevant presence in the dance community. As much as we're part of history, the show changes every year, and so do we."
Hometown: Burlington, CT
Height: 5' 9 1/4"
Favorite Rockette tradition: "At the very beginning of our first rehearsal, we lined up in height order—tallest in the middle, shortest at either end—to find out who we'd be standing next to for the dances this season. Knowing that every Rockette has experienced that made it such an iconic and emotional moment for me."Advice to aspiring Rockettes: "Keep going to ballet and tap classes! What the Rockettes do is very ballet-based and requires a lot of core stability. Tap wasn't always my strong suit, growing up as a classical ballet dancer. But those tap classes I was less-than-excited about helped me get to where I am today."