Why the Rockettes Are My Daughter's Role Models

I'm not sure if she'll wind up joining the world's most famous kick line. But I plan to help keep the dream alive.
Courtesy of David Sparrow

I just received an invoice for my daughter Isabella's dance classes for the coming school year. My jaw almost opened. As her devotion to dance has blossomed, I've grown accustomed to paying more and more. But this year, she plans to take five classes per week—ballet, tap, Broadway—plus beginner pointe and technique classes. When you factor in uniforms, tickets for recitals (yes, we pay for those, too, since the studio rents out a college theater), shoes, leotards, tights, and endless hair bands and spray (gotta keep that bun in place!), it adds up to roughly the cost of a year's tuition at an in-state college.

But it's well worth it. Dancing has been a wonderful confidence builder for my 11-year-old. It's taught her self-discipline, helped her develop a love of performing, and provided a passion she can nurture for years to come.

How many years remains to be seen. But for now she plans to dance through high school and beyond. She's spoken about wanting to dance on Broadway one day. That's a long shot, of course, roughly as likely as a youth baseball player making the major leagues. Still, it's a goal worth encouraging. So when I was given the opportunity for her to see the New York Spectacular starring the Rockettes and meet two of the dancers, I gladly accepted.

The show, which runs through August 7 at Radio City Music Hall, is a love letter to New York City. Through its light-as-air plot—two kids get separated from their parents during a visit to the Big Apple—the family-friendly show hits nearly every tourist highlight, from the Empire State to the Statue of Liberty to the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park. The animatronics and special effects are impressive, as the New York Public Library lions, Patience and Fortitude, and Wall Street's Charging Bull, among others, come to life.

But the real highlight is watching the world's most famous precision dance team perform. Isabella was entranced, especially by their "Singing in the Rain" number (replete with yellow slickers, pink umbrellas, and a hydraulic system that dumps 500 gallons of water on the dancers)—and of course the group's patented kick line. For Isabella, who has seen many musicals, it was a treat to see dancing take center stage.

An even bigger treat was getting to do the bevel pose with two Rockettes, Teneise Mitchell Ellis and Jessie Crouch, who were still in costume. She got to stand on the stage of the world's largest indoor theater (6,000 seats) and see the lines and numbers that help the dancers maintain their spots.

Then Isabella had the opportunity to interview them (her idea, not mine—I swear!). Like a true cub reporter, she asked at what age each started dancing, what studios they practice at, what made them decide to audition, and whether the experience was stressful.

Crouch, in her fifth season with the Rockettes, said she saw the group perform when she visited New York (from her California home) at age 14, and immediately knew it was her calling. She auditioned successfully right out of high school—though quickly pointed out that "most don't get it the first time. I knew one girl who auditioned 14 times before she was finally picked. Persistence is so important."

Ellis, from New Jersey and also in her fifth season, always aspired to be a Rockette and said it's been a dream come true. About the audition, she said, "You always have doubts, but you've put in the work and have to go in with the full confidence that you can do it."

Both were uncommonly warm and approachable, putting my reserved 11-year-old at ease. She was floating—or should I say on pointe—for the rest of the evening. When we arrived home, she said, "I want to be a Rockette!" Will her goal change? Will she get to 5-foot-6, the minimum requirement for the troupe? Time will tell. But I guess I'd better keep saving up, not just for college but for years of classes and outfits and hairspray to come.

David Sparrow is a senior editor at Parents.

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