Danelle Morgan (front row, third from left) and the Radio City Rockettes masked up at the 2020 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting (courtesy MSG Photos)

The Year Without the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular," According to One Rockette

For the last 15 holiday seasons, Rockette dance captain Danelle Morgan has spent most days (and nights!) at Radio City Music Hall, performing the legendary troupe's trademark precision choreography and eye-high kicks in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This year, of course, the Rockettes won't get a chance to grace the Great Stage—but they're keeping plenty busy until next Christmas, as Morgan told DS in a recent conversation.

Dance Spirit: What's it like being literally "home for the holidays" this year?

Danelle Morgan: Usually, I'd be doing up to four shows a day at Radio City, plus performing at other special events. For the first time in 15 years, I was able to get into the kitchen and cook on Thanksgiving! As much as I miss the job, there is something so special about being with loved ones during the holidays. Normally, I don't really see my husband during the Christmas season. This year, he and I are really getting into the traditions that I usually end up doing with my Rockette sisters at the Hall.

DS: Are you and fellow Rockettes continuing those backstage traditions at all this year?

DM: Our main connection through all this has been video chat. We're now using Secret Santa apps and things like that to stay connected with our dressing room-mates and even throughout the cast. As much as we're missing dancing with each other in-person, it's refreshing to know that the show we love and care about so much is still bringing us together. It really is a sisterhood.

DS: Are you at all worried you'll forget the choreography during this "year off"?

DM: Fortunately, we take archival footage and have our whole book of charts that I call "The Bible." Those allow us to do the necessary homework so that when we come back, we're not trying to play catch up.

DS: Usually, the two casts of Rockettes (Blue and Gold) take turns doing the tree lighting, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, etc. Is the exact same group of longtime Rockettes doing all the appearances this year?

DM: I did not do the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this year, but I was able to watch from home. It made me so happy to see my Rockette sisters wearing the masks with custom-made red cheeks. The choreography was of course abridged for TV, but they hit the highlights that audiences always applaud for at the Hall. I had tears of joy seeing the Rockettes push through, masks and all, alongside dancers from Broadway shows.

DS: The sheer number of Rockettes onstage (36!) helps put the "spectacular" in the Christmas Spectacular. Have you had to adjust the numbers in this year's performances because of COVID?

DM: Not really! For example, we usually have 12 to 18 women perform at the tree lighting. Fortunately, the stage this year had two levels, so we had 12 Rockettes perform—the same number as usual, just using the space in a different way and wearing masks.

DS: How does one even rehearse uber-precise Rockette choreography on Zoom?

DM: We usually start the learning process on Zoom so that our abridged schedule of in-person rehearsals can be as efficient as possible. We're not necessarily dancing to the music, because there's a delay—and the director can't necessarily clean choreography by looking at little boxes on-screen. But we learn slowly and with precision like always: Our shoulders are on this angle, this is on count one, we're going to cross over on count three...

Once we get into the studio, there's a leg up as far as knowing the choreography, what's coming next, and the arc of the piece. We've also learned this way that it's completely doable to dance in masks.

DS: What kind of dance do you do when not in "Rockette mode"? Have you had more of a chance to focus on that this year?

DM: I have a lot of concert dance in my background—I love a Graham-based modern moment. During the Rockettes' off-season, I'm in a lot of ballet, tap, and jazz classes to prepare. So through virtual classes, it's been nice to revisit what I call my past life, when I studied at the Ailey School.

DS: Any parts of the Spectacular that you're actually glad to get a break from?

DM: The one moment I'm okay with not doing is the jump split in "Ragdolls." My right hamstring is pretty happy not doing a jump split up to four times a day!

Now through December 23, head to @therockettes on Instagram to learn Spectacular excerpts from real Rockettes like Morgan. "Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – At Home Holiday Special" is streaming now through January 1 on NBC.com, the NBC app, and Peacock. This archival recording will also be broadcast live on NBC Wednesday, December 16 from 8 to 9 pm EST.

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