How to Become A Rockette, According To the Coach Who's Trained 36 Of Them
After 12 seasons dancing with the Rockettes, Rhonda Kaufman Malkin knows a thing or two about becoming one of Radio City's iconic dancers. Since 2006, Malkin has shared her secrets to success as a dance coach and personal trainer in New York City through her company Fusion Exercise. She's had 36 students book the Rockettes, and numerous others land Broadway shows, national tours, commercials and even Beyoncé's tour.
At the most recent Rockettes callback, over half of the 25 dancers had taken class with Malkin—and seven of them were offered contracts. Here's how to get to Radio City, according to Malkin.
1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
"Some dancers have great ballet technique, but their jazz or tap skills may not be as strong, so I hone in on those areas," says Malkin. For others, taking extra ballet classes to improve lines and alignment may be the missing puzzle piece.
2. Get in shape.
If a dancer is out of shape—lacking endurance, muscle tone or flexibility—Malkin switches on her personal trainer side to guide them back on track. "If you don't walk into the audition ready to put on the costume, you won't get work," she says. "Directors never think, 'Maybe if we give her two weeks she will look the part!'" More important than physical appearance is the overall strength benefits reaped from cross training—fewer injuries means more time to give 100% to training, auditions and eventually that dream job.
3. Dress the part.
Based on Malkin's experience, wearing trendy items—like thigh high boots or crop tops—might make a dancer stand out, but not always in a good way. "The current Rockettes director is very traditional, so I advise my students to wear a leotard, flesh color tights, and nude heels, with hair in a French twist," says Malkin. Makeup should be done as though "you are going on a date with the hottest person you know." Let your talent, hard work and love of dance set you apart.
4. Don't be discouraged if you can't tap.
Some dancers shy away from auditioning for the Rockettes or classic Broadway shows because of their lack of tap skills. Malkin has had at least 10 students come to her with zero tap training who later booked the Rockettes. One student performed with a modern company for five years, and called Malkin saying she wanted to book the Rockettes. "She was hungry, focused and practiced my steps as well as taking additional tap classes," recalls Malkin. "She booked the job within eight months."
5. Skip contemporary class.
Over the years, Malkin has observed increasingly popular contemporary styles decreasing dancers' abilities for precision, accurate counting and attack. So if a dancer is focused on becoming a Rockette or booking a classic Broadway show, Malkin strongly discourages taking contemporary classes.
6. Approach learning choreography as a skill.
During the first cut for the Rockettes audition, the combination is only demonstrated three times—you either get it or you don't. But don't stress if picking up choreography produces nightmares. Malkin's success with her students proves it is a skill that can be learned. For starters, she suggests counting while learning choreography, otherwise you are already one step behind.
7. Focus on what's in your control.
The requirements for being a Rockette are to be 5'6"-5'10.5" tall and proficient in ballet, jazz and tap. If a dancer does not meet those height requirements, it is out her control. But the technical and artistic requirements are completely within the dancer's power, and Malkin says those factors are the only ones worth worrying about.
8. Practice good audition etiquette.
If you get cut, simply say thank you and leave promptly. "You are never allowed to ask casting directors why you didn't make the cut," Malkin says. "That's my job as a coach to identify." If you do get to the end of an audition or callback, a simple thank you will do–no handshake required. Thank you notes are not required after auditions, but Malkin does advise sending handwritten notes to anyone involved in casting once a job is completed, saying you enjoyed the opportunity and hope to work with them again in the future.
We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.
But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?
"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."
For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.
There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.
Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.
The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.
You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.
1. Master the Basics
When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.
Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.
You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.
Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.
In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.
I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?
—Injured Rockette, New York, NY
Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."
But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.
Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.