Each holiday season, more than 2 million people make the pilgrimage to see the world famous Rockettes kick up their heels during the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Some 6000 people fill the seats of the historic Manhattan theatre five times daily to watch Santa, his reindeer and, of course, the goose-stepping wooden soldiers.
"There are 80 women who are Rockettes. So we have two separate casts, each cast has 36 women on stage at a time," says Rockette Morgan Hartley. She's been with the iconic troupe for four years, but this is her first season performing in the Big Apple. "It is so magnificent and so grand and it is the most exciting thing ever to see that curtain go up and to be able to do what I love to do every single day in front of that many people."
Hartley and fellow Rockette Audrey Thelemann shared a few behind-the-scenes secrets with FoxNews.com about what it takes to be a leg-kicking Rockette and how to put on a show-stopping routine.
The Rockettes do their own hair and make-up
As Hartley describes it, looking like a Rockette may not be so hard after all. "They just tell us to wear a red lip, fake lash and French twist. And however that’s going to look on me is how I am going to look in the show."
Their rehearsal space is holy
Rehearsals start in September and are everyday Monday through Friday, from 10 am to 6 pm. But where they practice their routine isn't where you think it would be. "We rehearse at a church. Our rehearsal space looks exactly like our stage will look. So everything is exactly the same. So it’s very specific even as much as a couple of inches can make a big difference when you are on stage at the same time."
The women aren't Rockettes year-round.
Hartley says they are a well-rounded group of women. "It’s a variety of what everyone is interested in doing in the off season. If you can think of any alternate career other than dancing, a Rockette probably does it."
Soldiers tall hats cause visual impairment
You'd think you want to see where you're dancing. The "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" has been in the show since 1933, but those tall black hats may need a makeover. "They all have to look the same so they all have to sit flat on our heads," says Hartley. "It’s kind of like having a visor on, you can only really see about 4 to 5 feet in front of you."
Those rosy cheeks aren't natural
Okay, we kind of knew that. But what you may not know is that those red cheeks stay put thanks to the magic of double-sided tape. The Rockettes go through about 15,000 of them every season.
Rockettes can change faster than it takes a normal person to get out of bed
Each Rockette goes through eight costume changes a show. "Our quickest one is the soldier dance into the double decker bus – New York at Christmas and that change is 78 seconds," Hartley explains. "We change our shoes, we take off our pants, out on the red or green sequin dress, we put on gloves, we put on earrings, we put on a hat, we out on a jacket. All of that happens on the stage in the wings."
Costumes can weigh as much as a small child
Their heaviest costume is the "Santa Suit", which weighs 40 pounds. The ladies light up when they talk about this number because they get to dance in flats. "We have about 50 people in this – we have the 36 Rockettes and the rest of our ensemble. This one is pretty quick because it is really just a big zipper and it has a belt and inside it has the fat suit. It's like a big jumpsuit," says Hartley.
The Rockettes are not the same height
"In order to be a Rockette you have to be between 5’6” and 5’10 ½”," says Hartley. "It’s an optical illusion. They put the tallest girl in the center, going down the less tall girls at the end."
They wear microphones in their shoes
Microphones in their shoes magnify the taps during the "12 Days of Christmas" routine. Thelemann credits the crew with keeping those shoes in tip, tap shape. "We have a whole entire microphone crew, sound wise, they will fix up all of the shoes, tighten up the taps and screws in them. Make sure all of the battery packs are charged. "
The Rockettes don't hang on each other when they kick
The dancers never actually touch each other during their perfectly synched high kicks. "We rest our hands on the fabric," Thelemann demonstrates just before teaching me how to do that famous kick.