If you’ve seen the annual Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, you’ve witnessed the talent of the Rockettes, the dancers at the heart of the show, and specifically, their iconic signature move: a mesmerizing kickline. But what you might not know is the kind of kick-butt workouts and practice it takes to bring those kicks to life for 90-minute shows, often several times back-to-back in a single day for a nearly two-month run. That’s what Well+Good creative director Ella Dove got to experience firsthand when she recently spent a morning with the Rockettes themselves, learning the inside secrets of how they train, rehearse, and recover–and giving it all a go herself.
As Dove quickly discovered, a huge part of keeping up such a high-intensity performance schedule is practicing a consistent warm-up before shows, including planks, arm exercises, and of course, lots of hamstring prep to get those legs kicking. In fact, the dancers have their own signature move to fire up the hamstrings that they call “Bottoms Up,” which involves squatting with your hands pressed together in front of your chest and then extending the legs into a forward-fold, and repeating several times.
Once Dove had a chance to do these warm-ups and more alongside six Rockettes, it was time to move on to learning how the Rockettes train for their famous kicks, starting with the lineup position. And that’s where things get interesting: Despite what you might think, the Rockettes aren’t holding onto each other’s backs for support–or actually touching or leaning on them at all. That’s right, they’re hovering their arms behind one another in a shape that Rockette Sarah Grooms Hoge calls the “arc and slice.” “Your right arm arcs out and around, and your left hand slices straight up to be in the lower-middle portion of the back next to you,” she explains.
That means the Rockettes are not only kicking their legs sky-high to the beat of the music, but they’re also keeping their arms up, with their hands hidden just so behind the people on either side of them. After doing just eight kicks in this position herself, Dove’s consensus? “Hard as hell.” (And keep in mind, the Rockettes do hundreds of kicks like this per show.)
“From the time that orchestra starts at the top of the show, you’re ready to go [for 90 minutes straight]–you have to be.” –Sarah Grooms Hoge, Radio City Rockette
To keep from overworking and straining their muscles, the Rockettes also practice regular cool-downs, utilizing an onsite athletic training room to stretch after shows and dunk their feet, legs, or whole bodies into ice tubs (filled with 30-degree water). In the same space, there’s a gym’s worth of strength-training equipment that the dancers often tap pre-show to “just get everything going,” says Hoge, “because from the time that orchestra starts at the top of the show, you’re ready to go [for 90 minutes straight]–you have to be.” The show, as you’d quickly notice upon attending, has no intermission and involves the Rockettes in nearly every scene.
To learn more about how the Radio City Rockettes train to stay kickin’ all season long, plus how they get ready for each show (they do their own hair and makeup!), take a look at Dove’s full journey backstage by pressing play on the video above.