After 14 seasons as a Rockette and a dance captain, Karen Keeler is now Director of Rockettes Creative. She is responsible for the iconic, international dance troupe known the world over. As the Rockettes bring joy to New York audiences daily in The Christmas Spectacular, BroadwayBox caught up with Karen to discuss the evolution of Rockettes choreography, three things every aspiring Rockette should know, and how her time as a Rockette informs her leadership.
1. What’s the biggest way being a Rockette has changed since you performed with the company? How has your time as a Rockette informed how you work and lead them now?
The biggest way being a Radio City Rockette has changed is in the demands and the versatility of the choreography. Throughout the 14 seasons that I performed as a Rockette, the choreography consistently evolved to become more athletic and physically demanding. The precision that the Rockettes are known for remains, but the versatility of dance styles continues to be explored in the Rockettes repertoire. The real beauty of the Rockettes is experienced when you watch a performance and it looks effortless. These women are some of the hardest working performers in the business doing up to 17 shows in one week during the run of the Christmas Spectacular.
As the Rockettes Creative Director, I have been able to use my experiences as a Rockette to connect with the women and to direct them in a way that will bring the best results. The work ethic that I found so fulfilling as a Rockette is still a driving force. Every single woman brings her personal best every day and that’s what makes the Rockettes so incredible.
2. What’s your process for crafting the show each year? How do you know which classic numbers to keep and when a new moment is called for?
The Christmas Spectacular is currently in its 85th year and we continue to honor the tradition of such numbers as “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity,” with choreography that has been untouched since 1933. As the Rockettes Creative Director, I do make choreographic changes and updates to the existing numbers each year. Doing so keeps the show fresh and allows us to bring something new to the audience every year.
3. What are three pieces of advice you’d give to young women who dream of becoming a Rockette?
Three pieces of advice that I would give to young women who dream of becoming a Rockette are:
A. Immerse yourself in dance classes consistently. A strong ballet foundation is a must, but being versatile in many styles of dance is equally important. Taking classes not only prepares you physically but also mentally. It is important to be a well-rounded dancer with strong technique and the ability to retain choreography and take direction.
B. Pay attention! Listen to what is being asked of you either in a class or at an audition. I am always impressed with young women who can assimilate choreography efficiently, absorbing all the details and applying notes as needed. Stay present and engaged in what is happening around you. There is always something to be learned by observing others.
C. Be yourself and love what you do! In the end, sincerity always shines through. Being confident in your strengths will bring better results. Strive always to do your personal best and follow your dreams. In the end, if you know you have done that, then you have something to be proud of.
4. What do you think the biggest misconception is about life as Rockette?
I think the biggest misconception about being a Radio City Rockette is that it’s easy. The Rockettes exemplify teamwork, strength, glamour, elegance, grace and confidence in all that they do. The intense physicality and discipline required to achieve the level of precision that the Rockettes are known for is unparalleled. Most people do not realize what the rehearsal process is like: six hours a day, six days a week of hard work. The energy in the rehearsal studio when all 36 women are working together is truly indescribable. The focus and commitment that every single woman brings is what makes the Rockettes so extraordinary.
See Karen Keeler's work in The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes at Radio City through December 31.