Trouble in Rockette Land

“Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

The average Radio City Rockette is 5’8” tall. I am, and probably will be from now on, several inches shorter than that average. So you can imagine how pathetic I felt standing in line with possible future Rockettes to audition for the Rockette Summer Intensive.

Usually, I would jump at the chance to grab a Starbucks so early in the morning. But my stomach was turning so violently that I couldn’t even think about ingesting anything. My feet shuffled mindlessly as the line moved forward: left foot, right foot, left foot…

Right shoulder?

I looked up. I happened to be standing under the one and only tree growing out of the cement sidewalk—the sidewalk that I wished I could melt into at that moment. The bird that had just dropped a sticky, wet bomb on my shoulder sat triumphantly on a branch. Here I was, smashed in between girls with legs as long as I was tall, with a steaming, white stain on the front of my black cotton leotard.

Panic hit me like a yellow cab on the city streets. How was I—a short, shy, shaky girl—supposed to face the most prestigious dance group in the country with bird droppings on my leotard? I was a few girls away from the door. My heart leaped up my throat, out of my chest, and into my hands as I searched frantically in my bag for a tissue, a wipe, something.

But I had nothing.

Once inside the audition room, I fretted over the stain as the Rockettes began to show the choreography. When I could finally get a glance at myself in the mirror, looking like a gremlin among goddesses, my eyes went straight to the stain. Rockette choreography is detailed down to the little finger and I couldn’t even get past the right side of my chest.

We were put alphabetically into groups of three. I had time before my turn to go over the choreography—a jazz combination, a tap combination, and thirty two eye-high kicks—but standing there on the side, watching the girls audition in threes before me, turned my beating heart into a ticking time bomb.

Hearing my name being called set the bomb off. I had to tell myself to breathe: in through the nose, out through the mouth. The imposing Rockettes sat at a table in front of the mirror, and all I could see in that mirror was my chest and the stain that had been dropped there by my friend, the bird.

Then, I focused on the Rockettes, and for the second time that day, I felt like I was hit by a speeding yellow cab. I was standing in front of women who I had always dreamed of meeting. Why was I not making the most of this opportunity? I tried channeling the confident girl and passionate dancer who I almost thought I had left back at my studio at home. The stain on my chest faded away.

Five months later I was standing in front of the same women, learning more than I thought possible. I still felt like a shrimp—I was half an inch below the absolute minimum height—but one of the Rockettes, Traci, told me that I was tall and everyone else was simply taller. She told me, “No one is short in Rockette land.” I could have had bird droppings on my leotard every single day during the Intensive and my smile would have been just as bright.

Leave a Comment