It’s the season of holiday spectaculars, and, if you’re anywhere near New York, it’s the time that the bedazzled Radio City Rockettes take over Radio City Music Hall. The dance troupe has been wowing audiences for almost a century, and their annual “Christmas Spectacular” is beloved for its dizzyingly-synchronized choreography and iconic kicklines.
For many professional dancers, donning a Rockette uniform is a lifelong dream. That was certainly the case for two star dancers from Massachusetts who are spending the holidays in New York this season: Kelty Ober, hailing from Norwood, is a brand-new Rockette who studied at Paulette’s Ballet Studio in Medfield and said she’s “always had the dream to be a Rockette.” Westminster-raised veteran Hannah Sides is a dance captain and associate choreographer now in her 18th season; growing up, Sides commuted into Boston to train at the Jeannette Neill Dance Studio.
In a recent phone interview, both women took a break from their busy show schedules to talk about the Rockettes’ unique community, achieving the group’s famous precision, and what makes donning their bedazzled uniforms such a dream come true.
Q. Do you have any pre-show rituals for nerves or good luck?
Sides: The opening number in the show is called “Sleigh Ride.” We’re all dressed as reindeer, and the number finishes with a kickline. Before I do any show, I always do that kickline, because I want to get my legs going and get my my blood flowing.
Ober: I actually do those same kicks before I start as well, to make sure I’m ready and prepared for that show and for the kicks that are coming my way.
Q. Do you know how many kicklines you do overall?
Sides: I think there are five in the show. One of the unique ones is actually a part of a scene called “dance of the frost fairies,” which is actually new to the show this year. The Rockettes are dressed as frost fairies that are creating this immersive, beautiful environment with our projections that happen on the walls of Radio City.
Q. It must take a lot of time and effort to achieve the precise synchronization the Rockettes are known for. What motivates you to keep working toward that perfect unison?
Sides: One of the things that keeps me really coming back and interested in the work is its attention to detail. There’s always something that you can improve upon with the Rockette work because it is so, so detailed. And with that precision, every part of you — every almost, like, fingertip, has a spot that you want to have it exactly right every time. So it’s not just a lot of physical work, but it’s also a lot of mental work.
Ober: I also love the fact that as we’re all dancing together, there really is a lot of teamwork that goes into it. There isn’t really one star on the stage, which is what a lot of people like when they are dancing — they like that spotlight. Which is great, but I love the teamwork that comes with the Rockettes. There’s no one person that’s really standing out versus the others; we all really are a team.
Q. Do either of you have any habits or quirks when you dance that you have to train yourself out of in order to make sure that you are exactly in sync with everybody else?
Sides: I have scoliosis. It’s something that I am mindful of, because I’m not necessarily exactly symmetrical. So especially with Rockettes work, with it being so detailed, I definitely always have an awareness of trying to make sure that both sides of my [body] — especially my shoulders, that tend to not be the same level — and using a mirror and trying to make sure that I’m matching all the lines that we’re trying to create.
Q. Do you think that the Rockettes community is different from any of the other dance groups or dance communities that you’ve been a part of?
Sides: One of the unique things is how many shows we do, because we can do up to four shows a day and usually up to 15 or 16 shows in a week. And we spend all the holidays together. So it really becomes like we are a family through that hard work and that rigorous rehearsal and show schedule.
I’ve been doing this for so many years; the people that I work with are also some of my best friends. They were at my wedding. We’re together outside of work all year round, even when it’s not Christmas — you really become so close to the people you’re working with. Because it takes so much work to be there and to come together and do that.
One of the moments in the show when we do “parade of the wooden soldiers,” we do a fall at the end where you’re literally having each other’s back. The only way that it works is by working together and by supporting each other, and coming together to have each other’s back, on and off stage.
Interview was edited for length and clarity.