Christmas is a time of traditions, family, joy and more. Speaking of traditions, a world famous one is gearing up to perform on 50th Street to kick off the holiday season. The Rockettes are an internationally known dance troupe, famous for their high kicks and the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes.
In addition to performing, each Rockette also spends their time volunteering for organizations like the Garden of Dreams Foundation.
Katie Hamrah is an experienced Rockette who hails from right here in the Garden State! Hamrah, who is in her 11th season as a Radio City Rockette, gave us some behind-the-scenes insight into what it’s like to be a member of the awe-inspiring group. Don’t miss this Up Close interview! (Editor’s Note: this interview was conducted on September 30, 2016.)
Best of NJ: Where in New Jersey did you grow up?
Katie Hamrah: I grew up in Middlesex, New Jersey. It’s about an hour from the city so I grew up coming into the city all the time for dance classes and seeing shows.
BONJ: How old were you when you first started dancing?
KH: I was three-years-old. I grew up with two older brothers, so I feel like my mom was super excited to have a girl in ballet class.
BONJ: What was your first exposure to the Rockettes?
KH: When I was younger, probably around 10-years-old was the first time I saw the Christmas Spectacular. I actually grew up with a former Rockette. So I skipped out on high school one day when I was 18. I was deciding if I wanted to audition myself. I actually got to see the dress rehearsal for the Christmas Spectacular, which was amazing. Her mom made me video record it at the time and I was just thinking in my seat, like, this is what I want to do. I have to do this. That year, in 2006, I decided to audition myself and I will never ever forget that day. I remember the line was like wrapped around Radio City and I was just thinking “oh my gosh this is a lot of women auditioning for probably not a lot of spots.”
BONJ: What is the audition process like?
KH: You have to be proficient in ballet, tap and jazz. I think my first year we had over 700 women audition in New York. They just keep making cuts throughout the day. There are probably about 50 to 70 women in the room at the time. They just keep going through groups and you have to do a jazz combination, a tap combination, you have to do the famous eye-high kick. It keeps getting smaller and smaller until the callback day. It’s quite crazy, it’s definitely not as easy as it looks sometimes.
BONJ: What does it take to be a Rockette?
KH: I have a funny story. I grew up in a very sports-driven family. My father being a former football coach, he likes to call us “athletes in rhinestones.” There is blood, sweat and tears that goes into it; we’re about to start rehearsals which is six days a week, six hours a day, six weeks before we open. It’s a lot of hard work. Sometimes we’re learning all these different numbers, the stage is set up like a big grid as well. There are all these numbers and lines. We show up to our first day of rehearsal with notebooks to write down all of our choreography and numbers and lines. It’s a lot, it’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes and a lot of people just see the finished product.
BONJ: Who inspired/inspires you to dance?
KH: I would have to say my former dance teacher kind of pushed me out of my comfort zone, but in a good way. She pushed me into plays and singing and acting and auditions. I don’t know that I would have had the confidence myself to do that. Every year, she comes to see the show, since I’ve started. I always tell her “I’m up here because of you. This is the reason why I’m doing this.” If she hadn’t pushed me, I don’t know that I would be here.
BONJ: How much does the Christmas Spectacular change from year to year?
KH: We brought back Rag Dolls, which is one of my favorite numbers. It’s so fun, it’s just a high energy tap routine. That’s back in the show, which is so exciting. I absolutely love that number. It’s such a fun number to do on stage with all the other women because we kind of be ourselves a little bit. I’m so excited that that one is back in the show.
BONJ: What is your favorite number to perform?
KH: I would have to say it’s “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” for me. It’s just so iconic, and the lines, and you hear the audience gasp when we’re doing the soldier fall. That is my absolute favorite. All of them are my favorite, but “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” is my absolute favorite.
BONJ: Is it tough to balance family life during the holidays with being a Radio City Rockette?
KH: We perform six days a week. There are two casts in the Christmas Spectacular because there is up to six shows a day. We split the show load and then we each get a day off. I’m lucky enough to live close to the city. These women, we are spending so much time with each other that we become like family. We’re lucky enough to spend the holidays together. I get to go home quite often just because I am only about an hour from my family, so that’s really nice for me as well. I’ve made some of the best friends doing this show.
BONJ: What is your training regimen like during the off season?
KH: A lot of us have different jobs, in addition to being a Rockette. I myself am a fitness instructor. I am a trainer at a studio in Jersey City. Two former Rockettes opened it. I am doing that off season, but we also have tons of things going on off season. Last year, we got to perform in the 2015 NBA All Star Game, which was one of my favorite events to date. I remember standing underneath the stage because we came up from under and I looked over to my right and there was Christina Aguilera on her lift and I was like “oh my gosh, I’m dancing with Christina Aguilera.” I remember mimicking her in the basement with my friends, like her music videos. That was one of the coolest events I have ever done.
BONJ: How do you maintain your energy all the way through each performance?
KH: A little back story, we like to have dance parties in our dressing room before the show and I get nominated for DJ quite often just because I have playlists from the fitness studio. So we throw in some dance parties here and there, we kick back in the dressing room. Actually, once we leave our dressing room upstairs, we don’t return because we’re constantly going. We actually just stay on stage level. Once we see somebody is kind of fading, we try to bring the energy up throughout because you do feel it. Dance parties are key for us.
BONJ: What is your daily schedule like during performance time? Does it depend on the day?
KH: It does depend on the day. Our earliest show is usually 9:00 am for my cast in particular. I like to get up a good amount of time beforehand, and we have to be at the theater a half an hour before. I usually get there an hour and a half before because I like to have my moment. We put our makeup on, usually have breakfast, we have a dance party, even if it’s 8:30 am. We do our hair, we do our own makeup. The girls always make fun of me too, because I have what I like to call twist tantrums, because we have to put our hair in a french twist. I get very frustrated sometimes but you’ve gotta get the twist perfect.
BONJ: Do the Rockettes participate in community service events as well?
KH: We do. We do a lot of work with the Garden of Dreams Foundation during the year – we visit hospitals during the season, which is really special, and the Rockettes work with kids on the annual Garden of Dreams Talent Show.
I’ve been to the Ronald McDonald House a number of times, which is also one of my favorite things going on during the season. We get to take a step away from our crazy, hectic schedule of the Christmas show. I’ve gotten to go to the Ronald McDonald House quite a few times, which has been awesome. Just to see their faces light up when we walk in the room, it’s amazing, it’s such a great feeling.
BONJ: Have you ever had an embarrassing moment on stage?
KH: We have our shoes break quite often or zippers, but we have amazing wardrobe behind the scenes. There’s about one dresser up to four girls. It’s kind of crazy backstage as it is on stage. It’s so choreographed back there. We’ve had shoes break, zippers break, and they are there in a second. You don’t even see where they are coming from. They tape the shoe back onto your foot, sewing up the zipper somehow so quickly. That has happened quite often, I’ve had many shoes break on stage.
BONJ: Do you have any fun facts about the Rocketttes that most people don’t know?
KH: I actually just got asked [the following question] the other day at my other job: Do we have different size heels? We actually don’t. You have to be between 5’6 and 5’10 and a half to be a Rockette. The lineup is one of the first things we do in rehearsal. We take our shoes off and we create our kick line. They put the tallest women in the center and then it goes out gradually. I’m toward the outside, I’m usually seventh in, around there. It creates the line that we are all the same height but we actually aren’t.
BONJ: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
KH: We hope to see everybody at the show. It’s one of the best places to spend Christmas. I grew up going quite a bit, so it’s just a great place to start a tradition, continue a tradition. We would just love to see everyone there at the Christmas Spectacular!
The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes opens on November 11 this year at the world famous Radio City Music Hall. Tickets are available through The Radio City Rockettes website, as well as through Ticketmaster. You can follow the Radio City Rockettes’ journey to opening night on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. From all of us at Best of NJ, we wish Katie the best of luck during her 11th season as a Rockette. Break a leg!
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All Photos: © MSG Entertainment