Rockettes seek to increase diversity among dancers as they kick off 90th Christmas Spectacular
"It takes work, it takes thoughts, it takes actions," dancer Valeria Yamin said.
The Radio City Rockettes, who have faced criticism for lack of diversity among their ranks, are working to increase representation as they kick off their 90th holiday season.
“Our conservatory program and dancer development is all part of this,” Rockettes director and choreographer Julie Branam, a former Rockette, told ABC News.
The Rockettes Conservatory is an invite-only, weeklong program that gives participants dance training in the Rockettes' style at no cost, according to the organization’s website. Their goal is to form an “inclusive talent pipeline by eliminating barriers to entry, investing in promising dancers and attracting the best dancers from all backgrounds.”
Valeria Yamin participated in the program before becoming a Rockette.
“Culturally and traditionally, no, I didn’t see myself represented fully. I also had the dream and the goal and the drive to be on the line myself, so that I could open the doors for little girls like me with big curly hair and who come from a Hispanic family,” Yamin told ABC News.
The conservatory also offers trainees free transportation to and from New York City, lodging, meals and even dance shoes if they need them, Branam said.
“It’s not going to be -- boom! -- one day we’re just going to see the line be completely represented like we want. It takes work, it takes thoughts, it takes actions and I think they’re doing that,” Yamin added.
After the conservatory, Yamin auditioned to become a Rockette, and it was a dream come true when she got the call that she was chosen.
“Right as I ended the phone call, I screamed my lungs out. And we were just jumping up and down, because it felt like all the hard work was paying off,” Yamin said.
After performing in more than 100 shows, Yamin says the curtain coming up on the opening number still never gets old. “It's exhilarating. You feel the energy from the Radio City stage, this iconic piece of fabric that is part of New York City,” she said.
ABC News' Ashan Singh went backstage with the world-famous dance troupe at their annual Christmas Spectacular.
This year’s show features iconic musical numbers like “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” a staple since the show’s inception. A high-tech number called “Dance of the Frost Fairies” features fairy drones whirling overhead.
The troupe has come a long way since the original 16 Rockettes in the early 1930s. Now with 36 dancers, they perform their famous high kicks nearly 200 times per show, up to four shows per day.
It's one of the most elaborate holiday gigs on Earth, and the choreography continues backstage.
Between numbers, the Rockettes change costumes and race back to the stage just in the nick of time. The fastest change is 78 seconds, when they switch from wooden soldiers into their sparkly red and green costumes for “New York at Christmas.”
Over the last few years, the dancers have started practicing the quick change even before they get to the stage, Branam said.
Branam, who started as a dancer herself and has been with the show for three decades, said she tries to strike a balance between preserving the show’s traditions and adding some new flavor.
“I want to make sure that the Rockettes are keeping up with the times and pushing the envelope,” she said.
This year’s Christmas Spectacular runs until January 2 before closing for the season.