Real lives of the Rockettes

A steady stream of folks donning furry red and white hats ala Santa Claus filtered through the walkways inside Scottsdale Fashion Square last week.

Thank goodness they weren't passing out antlers!

I had only to follow the hats to find Thursday’s performance by members of the Radio City Rockettes outside Macy’s on the second floor (dangerously close to the Michael Kors handbags).

They were there as part of a nationwide kickline, offering a free ticket voucher for an upcoming performance at in Glendale to the first 100 people to join them for a few kicks.

The “Kicking Across America” program raises funds for the “Garden of Dreams” foundation-which works to “make dreams come true for kids in crisis.”

Lizabeth and I saw the Rockettes perform several years ago at Dodge Theater in Phoenix–and found the show an intriguing mix of charm and spectacle. In a word, they “sparkle.”

While at the mall I chatted with a woman about community theater in the Valley. Seems she’s eager to get involved again after many years away from the stage–where she often spent time while in high school without ever telling her parents or her seven sibs.

Rockette Stacy Paydo was the 1990 Jr. Dance Champion on "Star Search"

After the event, I headed with Lizabeth over to a local resort to chat with Stacy Paydo, who was born and raised in Tempe, and is now entering her sixth year as a Rockette.

We asked Paydo when the dancing bug first struck, how she got the gig and why their shows have such enduring popularity with audiences of all ages.

“My mom was a swimmer,” recalls Paydo–who says she started tagging along on trips to the local public pool at the tender age of three. Before long, Paydo’s grandmother noticed that she spent more time dancing on the cool deck than taking to the water. A dancer was born.

Paydo took dance lessons at a Tempe studio for several years, until she realized the competitive dance scene was her thing. She switched to another studio–Dance Connection in Scottsdale–where she danced about 20 hours per week.

During high school, Paydo continued to dance–but also participated in student government, the cheer squad, swimming/diving and musical theatre (performing in “Grease,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” and “West Side Story”).

Paydo recalls enjoying musicals at ASU Gammage in Tempe since she was just a little girl, but knew early on that dance–rather than theater–was her one true love. (In 2003, Paydo earned her B.S. in business management–with a minor in dance–at ASU.)

Auditioning for the Rockettes is a two-day process, shares Paydo. That’s assuming you make it that far. Paydo says she was one of about 500 dancers who began the audition process on day one–which started with measurements of height and such.

Measurements were followed by learning and performing various dance routines–jazz, tap and more–with cut after cut after cut in between.

Just 20 or so “girls,” including Paydo, were called back for day two–when the serious kicking takes place. Some girls get the call back afterward, while others don’t–sometimes because there simply isn’t a slot that year for a particular type.

Paydo was cast after auditioning again the following year. In the interim, she performed for Princess Cruises–with a leisurely schedule of four shows per week sandwiched between tanning, excursions ashore and other adventures.

Nowadays Paydo rehearses with the company six hours a day Monday through Saturday (except show days). The Rockettes perform as many as four shows a day.

Between tours, Paydo teachers master classes in dance all over the country. (She’s also taught locally at Plumb Performing Arts Studio in Scottsdale and Victoria’s Dance Depot in Ahwatukee.)

Tucson-born Mary Cavett, a Rockette since 2008, grew up watching "Ballet Arizona" perform

A single show can include 300 kicks per dancer, which explains Paydo’s confession that the Rockettes end many of their dancing days clad in bathing suits as they sit together in huge ice baths. Think of it as a jacuzzi on the rocks.

So what keeps them kicking? “My grandma,” says Paydo, “used to take me to Radio City Music Hall.” She’s heard the same story from countless fans, and never tires of it.

Seeing the Rockettes is a “family tradition,” reflects Paydo. “We hear so many heartwarming stories.”

Paydo loves seeing little girls in the audience gazing at the Rockettes with “eyes like saucers.”

Some of the numbers they perform–including a parade of wooden soldiers and a living nativity scene–are audience favorites that have been around since 1933.

Still, this year’s touring production has plenty of new elements not included in the Rockettes’ last show in the Valley. And, shares Paydo, it’s been designed for arenas rather than smaller venues. Think huge LCD screen, red double decker bus and kicking amidst the virtual streets of NYC.

How lovely to wonder just how many little girls might see the Rockettes perform here during December only to head back home with dreams of dancing their way to Radio City Music Hall one day.


Note: Click here to learn more about the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” starring the Rockettes–which comes to Dec 1 and 2 (at 4pm and 7pm each day). Or here to read a recent article about the Rockettes from “Broadway World” (the source of the fabulous photo ala reindeer above).

Coming up: How Rockette Mary Cavett, originally from Tucson, blends her passion for theater and dance


One response to “Real lives of the Rockettes

  1. when are tryouts an what all you need~!!!!

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