Last August, surrounded by hundreds of dancers in Radio City Music Hall, advertising senior Karly Pierce waited to audition to fulfill her dreams of becoming a Rockette.
The Rockettes are almost as “New York” as the Statue of Liberty. They are known for their legendary lines of identical looking dancers kicking with perfect accuracy.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be a Rockette. They’re so iconic,” Pierce said. “They’re that pristine goal I always wanted to achieve.”
Just a few weeks before the audition, Pierce was visiting New York City for a dance intensive at Luigi’s Dance Centre NYC.
When presented with a photo opportunity with a Rockette in full costume and makeup while on a tour of Radio City Music Hall, Pierce couldn’t resist. After chatting with the Rockette, she learned there was an audition in a couple weeks.
“When she told me, I was like, ‘you know what? I think I’m going to do it,’” Pierce said.
Two weeks later, Pierce was back in New York City to audition. The night before, she lay awake anxiously.
“I think I was worried about missing my alarm. I had it set for 5 a.m.,” Pierce said.
Prophetically, Pierce slept through her alarm. She grabbed a power bar and coffee and ran out the door.
“I basically ran all the way to Radio City from my hotel,” Pierce said.
Even though she was running late, she was placed in the first group of 100 to audition. Once inside, Pierce was as ecstatic as she was nervous.
“I was the girl with the beaming smile, looking around and absorbing everything,” Pierce said.
The giant studio radiated with energy from the live jazz band, and sea of girls in jewel-toned leotards and French twists.
Warming up amongst the other dancers, Pierce felt a sense of belonging. She said she felt she was supposed to be there. Her nerves didn’t get the best of her.
“I fit in with them. I wasn’t a total outcast. I felt that when I was dancing, I looked good doing the choreography,” Pierce said. “It felt good.”
Pierce waited almost four hours to get into the audition studio. Once inside, she learned a quick jazz combination, set to a 1920s style Christmas song.
“It was a lot of isolations and some turns and kicks. It was all the basic movements you have to do as a Rockette,” Pierce said.
Even though Pierce was cut from the first round, she remains optimistic and keeps in mind the advice the Rockette gave her.
“She said it takes four or five auditions before you get in,” Pierce said. “That way the choreographer gets to know you and it calms your nerves.”
Pierce also believes an audition of this caliber has a lot to do with timing.
“If you’re not supposed to make it at a certain time, it’s not going to happen. If the time in your life is right, it will. That’s something I strongly believe,” Pierce said.
She will audition again this August and has been training since she arrived back in Moorhead. She averages a total of 10 to 12 hours dancing each week at Gasper’s School of Dance and Performing Arts.
Every Christmas, Gasper’s does a show that includes a Rockette inspired number. That’s how Pierce was first introduced to the Rockettes.
“I just loved being in that number. The obsession grew from there,” Pierce said.
The only live Rockette show Pierce has seen was in Minneapolis at the Target Center. She was 18 years old and overwhelmed with adoration.
“I cried when I saw it. They were absolutely beautiful,” Pierce said.
Besides the jazz, lyrical, tap and ballet classes she takes each week, Pierce also takes private lessons that focus solely on Rockette training.
“All we do for one hour is high kicks,” Pierce said.
Every day, Pierce stretches and practices her kicks at home. She has a workout routine that includes abdominal work and cardiovascular training. She also studies YouTube videos of Rockette performances to perfect her style.
“It’s so specific. During the audition, the choreographer said ‘If your pinky is out of line we can cut you. If your foot is slightly turned out instead of parallel, we can cut you,’” Pierce said.
The audition made Pierce more determined to go back the second time.
“It made me think I can do this, and I will. I’m excited to do it again,” Pierce said.
Rockette or not, Pierce will always love old style jazz dance.
“It’s more of a feeling than it is a technique,” Pierce said. “It comes from inside. It starts in your stomach and it comes out through your movements instead of it being about tricks and sexiness. That style emotes something without over doing it.”
BY SARAH TYRE
PHOTOS BY MELISSA STEPHAN