Megan Bryant is giddy. She’s just learned that Pilates can add an inch to your height.

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Candon Bates and Kelly Drummond learn Rockette techniques from instructor Cheryl Cutlip.
“I’m 5 foot even, but I’m only 16, so maybe I’ll grow more. But if Pilates helps, I’m totally doing that.”
Bryant needs to be 5 feet 6 inches by her 18th birthday to have a shot at the goal she’s been dancing toward since she was three years old: to become a Radio City Rockette.

Joining the precision company is a dream for thousands of young dancers.

Bryant and 18 other students from Patsy’s Dance Studio in Covington, Virginia, spent all night on a bus to New York City to attend the Rockette Experience at Radio City Music Hall, an intensive course in the company’s technique, on December 14, as the Rockettes’ 75th Christmas Spectacular unfolded on the famed stage downstairs.

Over three hours participants learn tap and jazz routines from the show, including those eye-high kicks, the dancers do about 400 per show.

They also learn the tricky “hook up.” Rockettes appear to link arms to form a tight-knit kick line, but they’re not actually allowed to touch, leaning on a neighbor could send the dancers crashing to the stage.

Finally, they undergo a mock audition, where they receive grades and feedback.

It may sound like Rockette-for-a-day fantasy camp, but the $108 class, offered throughout the year, is not for newbies, you’ll need at least intermediate dance skills to participate. While most attendees are teens, older professional dancers sometimes sign up as training for the official Rockette auditions in April.
For those even more serious about a Rockette career, there’s a weeklong boot camp each summer, where dancers learn the moves and get a chance to shine for Radio City talent scouts. Since the Experience started six years ago, about 30 Rockettes have been plucked from the 2,000 dancers who attend the courses each year.

The Experience was created in 2001 by Radio City marketing staffer Judi Ludovico. A former dancer, Ludovico had been frustrated by not knowing what to expect from auditions. She thought aspiring Rockettes could use a leg up, training in the troupe’s unusual technique.

The program “is a dream come true for these girls,” says Ramona Garcia, 58, a Covington elementary-school teacher and former dancer, chaperoning the group. “I wanted to be a Rockette, but I wasn’t tall enough — or thin enough,” she says with a laugh.

To these small-town dancers, class instructor Cheryl Cutlip’s road to Rockettedom is inspiring: She left High Point, North Carolina, a town with one dance studio, carrying two suitcases, bound for New York. She’s now in her 15th season at Radio City.

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Cutlip offers some sobering facts about Rockette life: Rehearsals for the holiday show start in September, running seven hours a day for four weeks. During the 10~week season, Rockettes kick their way through 16 performances a week, doing as many as four 90 minute shows in a day. And that’s not including one~offs like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the “Today” show, presidential inaugurations and private appearances.

And they do it all in costume, sometimes with each dancer sparkling with 3,000 Swarovksi crystals.

“It’s pretty hardcore,” says Covington dancer Kelly Drummond, 16.

St. Louis native Julienne Rencher, 24, is already preparing for the grueling schedule. While working as an Experience class assistant, she’s soaking up as much training as possible to prepare for the spring auditions. She also does ballet daily, plus regular cardio workouts of 90 minutes, the same length as the Spectacular. “And Bikram yoga,” she adds. “Lots of it.”

It pays to prepare: When Cutlip tried out 15 years ago, about 200 girls auditioned, she says. In 2007, the line of hopefuls “stretched all the way around the block” to fill less than 20 available spots in the five shows, New York’s, plus four touring troupes.

Blame daunting odds on low turnover. “Once you become a Rockette, if you keep yourself in shape, the company is fantastic about keeping you on,” Cutlip says. And because of the Spectacular’s enduring popularity, it’s one of the few reliable dancing gigs in show business.

Audition anxiety is a few years and thousands of practice kicks away for the girls from Covington. For now, they’ll return home armed with newfound technique, insider tips. “No quivering on the end pose. If you put the wrong arm up, don’t switch. Make the last kick strongest. And smile!”

When there is the official word on the height situation. Hopefuls must be between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 10 1/2 inches to qualify, up from the original standard of 5 feet 5 1/2 inches to 5 feet 9 inches “They grow ’em taller now,” says Cutlip.
Bryant’s not fazed. “It’s worth all the hard work,” she says. “It’s the Rockettes! Seeing them is something you never forget.”

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Thank you Live Wire and writer, Elizabeth Bougerol

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