By Jessica Meditz
Since 1933, millions of people from far and wide have come to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas Spectacular.
The show is a magical experience for guests of all ages, and what sets it apart from any other show in the world are the Radio City Rockettes.
Known for their long legs, high kicks and insane precision, the Rockettes are a national treasure and probably the top response among young dancers when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Being from Saskatchewan, Canada, this wasn’t exactly the case for Karen Ritchie, who joined the Rockettes in 2005.
“It’s funny, I learned about the Rockettes through the movie ‘Dirty Dancing,’” said Ritchie.
“So I had heard of them, but I wasn’t really familiar with what it meant to American culture, how the Rockettes are a treasure in the U.S. and how big of a job it actually is.”
When she first auditioned, Ritchie said she was “blissfully naive” about what she was getting herself into.
For such a high stakes job, the audition was quite simple — jazz and tap combinations, some kicks, and between each section cuts were made.
After the second day of auditions, on her way back home going through airport security, Ritchie received the call that she’d been selected to be a Rockette.
She’s lived in Astoria for the past seven years, and is just as giddy about her job now as she was as a new Rockette in 2005.
Predictably, the holiday season and its preceding months is the busiest time for the Rockettes as well as the rest of the Christmas Spectacular cast.
“We usually start rehearsing for the season toward the end of September,” said Ritchie.
“We do six hours a day, six days a week in our rehearsal space; that usually takes about four weeks to learn the show completely.”
Once the show does get rolling, the Rockettes practically live at Radio City Music Hall.
Each Rockette performs six days per week. On all days except for one, they will perform in two shows.
“With the Christmas Spectacular, we have two casts, which means that one day every week we’ll work all day long, and then another day we’ll be completely off,” she explained.
On their busiest day, the Rockettes perform in four shows back-to-back.
Like many people, Ritchie will start off her busiest day by waking up early and making herself a cup of coffee.
Surprisingly, the Rockettes’ makeup and hair routine is not too extravagant, considering Ritchie leaves her house with a fresh face each morning and gets ready at Radio City.
The first show of the day starts at 11 a.m., and like any other dancer, Ritchie uses her free time before heading on stage to stretch and review anything she needs to.
The four-show days go by pretty quickly, according to Ritchie.
“The two-show days are actually quite lovely,” she added. “I don’t have to set an alarm to get up since we start at 5 p.m. And when I have the whole day, I don’t always stay home.”
She said it’s those days where she’ll be able to accomplish chores around the house, or self care routines like going for a jog or catching up with her mom, who still lives in Canada.
Ritchie said that without fail, “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” is her favorite routine to do on stage.
“There’s just something so beautiful about this dance that requires so much precision, and the work of everyone on stage committing to it completely,” she said.
“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” has been a crowd pleaser since the first Christmas Spectacular in the ‘30s, and is known for its famous massive trust fall at the end of the routine.
Ritchie emphasized that without all of the trust and teamwork among the Rockettes, the dance would not be what it is known and loved for.
“It really shows a kaleidoscope on stage with the constant shifting of patterns, and it’s really mesmerizing to see 36 people working together and creating all these formations,” she added.
Along with the amazing routines the Rockettes get to perform each year, Ritchie said she feels extremely lucky to be able to wear such lovely costumes as well.
“There’s something really special about the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ costume,” she said. “We all look like Christmas presents, so it’s kind of like the quintessential Rockette Christmas Spectacular costume.”
As for her off season, Ritchie said that changes from year to year. However, she is currently involved with Pilates and is working on getting her certification.
“It’s a wonderful way to keep in shape, but it’s also very dancer-friendly,” she said.
She’ll often find that because she stayed active in the off season, the Rockette routines come September are a breeze.
The Christmas Spectacular isn’t the only opportunity for the Rockettes — they’ve performed at the VMAs, the MLB All Star Game and of course, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Ritchie is grateful for all the opportunities that Radio City has granted her with, but most of all, she’s thankful every day for the sisterhood that’s come out of this journey.
“We’re a really close knit group, and I don’t know how you wouldn’t be,” she said.
“We’re involved with each other’s weddings and we’re the first ones there to visit if someone has a baby,” she added. “I’m truly inspired by all the people that I get to call my coworkers and I am so honored to call them all my friends.”
If you’re interested in seeing Karen and the rest of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular cast, you can visit here.