NW dancer gets a kick from being a Rockette
An interview with Natalie Reid, who grew up in Sammamish dreaming about becoming a Rockette — and then became one.
Seattle Times movie critic
On the Internet
Radio City Christmas Spectacular: www.radiocitychristmas.com.
Among the new faces in New York's famed precision-dance troupe the Rockettes this holiday season is one from our own backyard: Natalie Reid, who grew up in Sammamish, is kicking up her heels these days at Radio City Music Hall, fulfilling a long-held dream.
Reid, interviewed on the phone after doing two matinees on a recent Wednesday, said that as a child, she would watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on television and be mesmerized by the Rockettes. "I'd see these gorgeous women that were doing a job that they loved, and thought it must be so great to be a part of something like that," she said. As a teen, Reid studied tap, jazz and ballet at Turning Point Dance Center (in Woodinville and Bothell) while attending Eastlake High School.
"I kept training and working hard," she said, "and there was always a little bug in my ear. One of my family friends would always say, 'You know, Natalie, I think one day you're going to be a Rockette.' "
That friend was one of the first to get a call when Reid was invited to join the troupe early this summer. After high school, Reid graduated from Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and then spent three years as a member of Odyssey Dance Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah. This year, she decided to follow her Rockette dream, and flew to New York in May for the troupe's annual open-call audition.
"There were about 560 girls in line, wrapped around the corner at Radio City Music Hall," Reid remembered. "I got there at 7 a.m., and I was 50th in line." Dancers were brought in, in groups of 75, to learn choreography from Rockettes director Linda Haberman — "lots of dancing in small groups, with kicks at the end." About 35 women were asked to come back for callbacks the next day, and Reid was one of the lucky five invited to join the 80-member New York company. (There are also two touring troupes of Rockettes, performing in Nashville and Boston/Raleigh.)
Rehearsals began in the fall for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which runs from Nov. 11 to Jan. 2 and is seen each season by more than a million people. The show has two complete casts of 36 dancers (plus four "swings" understudying, in case of injury), with each cast performing up to 17 shows a week during the December peak season. The show, a holiday tradition for generations of New Yorkers, has some elements that have been in place since the 1930s: the trademark Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, in which Rockettes expertly fall in line like dominoes, and the Living Nativity, featuring live animals. (Ted, one of the camels, has been in the show for 10 years; Gabby, the other, is a newcomer like Reid.) New elements this year, Reid said, include a number that uses 3D video.
And while the choreography onstage is challenging — including that famous Rockette kickline, with 36 dancers performing uncannily precise eye-high kicks — other moves need to be mastered, too. Reid has seven complete costume changes, ranging from perky reindeer costumes with lit-up antlers to dresses sparkling with Swarovski crystals (Reid's favorite, worn for a number called "Let Christmas Shine") to the simple robes of the Living Nativity. Each change is lightning-fast; each doesn't get accomplished alone.
"We actually have the help of dressers in the wings," said Reid. "They know exactly when to zip up each zipper and when to hand us our hats and our coats. There's almost more choreography going on offstage than what you see onstage, because there are 36 women getting changed and getting their props for the next numbers and getting set where they need to go on stage. We all have exact paths and moves and timing sequences. It's very precise."
Though the schedule is grueling, Reid says that it's worth every aching muscle to be part of such a major, festive event, and that's she's truly enjoying being part of "the great sisterhood" of Rockettes. Her most special performances so far have been in front of family members — her father and several aunts and uncles came earlier in the month, and at the time of the interview Reid was happily anticipating the imminent arrival of her mother. "Being on the stage and knowing that [family members] are out there, supporting you and cheering you on, is just fantastic."
Once the Christmas Spectacular ends, Reid will leave New York and return to life as a dance teacher and non-Rockette. But she hopes to return to the kickline next year. Back home for the holidays two years ago, she remembered seeing the Rockettes at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. "It was a pretty special night then, made even more special now," she said. "Watching the girls on stage, it really was just almost like looking at a dream, something I wished that I could do. I had no idea at the time that it would be something I could actually attain."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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