Secrets of a Radio City Rockette

Behind the Scenes at Radio City Music Hall with Rockette Teresa Burks

Teresa Burks, Radio City Rockette

Many little girls have dreamed about taking the Manhattan stage as a Radio City Rockette, dazzled as we've all been by the bright lights, glamorous costumes, and the opportunity to hang out with Santa Claus, of course!

The 80 women who make up the Radio City Rockettes are not only beautiful and graceful, but they are also world-class athletes. We spoke with Teresa Burks, who danced as a Radio City Rockette for more than a decade, about what it's really like behind the scenes at the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.

You were a Rockette for a long time! What was the experience like?

It has been incredible! This was at the top of my wish list. This was the number one thing I wanted to do. I never thought I would be here.

What was the audition process like?

I was performing in Atlantic City and would take a bus over each day to audition in New York City, but I could only stay until 2pm because of the show I was doing. I remember going up to the director and saying, “I have a gig in Atlantic City and I have to leave, can I please audition?” He said, “I guess you’ll have to come back tomorrow.” It was all worth it. The audition was intense. We had to perform tap numbers, jazz, kick lines, and the Rockettes have to sing. I was 5' 6" and 18 years old – that was the minimum height and age.

What was your favorite part of being a Rockette?

I love being on the Great Stage, seeing 6,000 faces sharing this Christmas tradition together.

You see some of the same faces year after year. My family comes each year. We have the traditional numbers that we’ve been doing since 1933 like “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity.”

There are over two dozen performances of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular weekly. How many shows does each Rockette perform in?

There are two casts in New York.

Each cast includes 36 women. We break it down by morning, afternoon, and evening shows so the casts can rotate. By the end of the season, each cast will have done about 108 shows.

How many costume changes did you have?

Eight. Our quickest is coming out of “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” We have 78 seconds for that change. I normally have 3 to 4 seconds to spare before I have to go back on stage.

How were rehearsals, and what did you do to keep in shape?

Rehearsals are intense. They are six days per week. We need to be in shape by then. I take Zumba, dance, yoga, and Pilates classes.

What do you do after the holiday season?

I am also a student at the University of Wisconsin, majoring in biology and pre-dental. I will be graduating in May. I filmed a part in New Year’s Eve. I worked with Michael Kors during Fashion Week. We get to do fun things. I will apply to dental school, but this is for after my dancing career.

-- Updated by Elissa Garay