Meet the woman behind the legendary Rockettes as 80 cancan dancers leg-kick their way to 85th anniversary this Christmas


Meet the woman behind the legendary Rockettes as 80 cancan dancers leg-kick their way to 85th anniversary this Christmas

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UPDATED:

16:27 GMT, 7 November 2012

On a recent afternoon at Radio City Music Hall, a group of Rockettes were being examined with critical eyes.

The 36 dancers practiced one of their signature synchronized numbers,
their long limbs seemingly in perfect symmetry. They moved like swans,
chins up, arms graceful.

Linda Haberman, director and choreographer of the annual Radio City
Christmas Spectacular, watched seriously from the seats and asked dance captain Karen Keeler's
opinion of this group of women. Ms Keeler looked at her charges. 'Do it all better,' she told them.

Legendary leader: Ms Haberman has been choreographing the show at Rockefeller Center since 2006

Legendary leader: Linda Haberman has been choreographing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show at Rockefeller Center since 2006

'We have, I think, six seconds,' replied Ms Haberman. 'So if you can say it in six seconds, you can do it.'

This year is the 85th anniversary of the Christmas Spectacular and
Ms Haberman is determined to put on a birthday party appropriate for this
grand old lady.

When one thinks of Christmas in New York, who doesn't
immediately imagine a line of crystal-bedecked women high-kicking it

Ms Haberman, who has been choreographing the show at Rockefeller Center
since 2006, has managed to pull the 90-minute show into the Wii era,
adding digital projections on LED screens, a 3-D section that requires
special glasses and even sequence inspired by a computer game.

Practice makes perfect: Under the watchful eyes of Linda Haberman, director and choreographer, the Rockettes dancers rehears for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Practice makes perfect: Under the watchful eyes of Ms Haberman, 80 Rockettes dancers rehears for this year's show opening November 9

Rehearsals: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular will celebrate its 85th anniversary of the Rockettes this year

Rehearsals: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular will celebrate its 85th anniversary of the Rockettes this year

Can-can: Dancers are gearing up for the show which opens November 9 through December 30 in new York City

Can-can costumes: In a nod to the anniversary, the show will have a costume retrospective featuring Rockettes wearing some pieces through the decades

'I try to look at it with new eyes every year,' she says.

'It's
really important to honor our past. There are things that are part of
the Rockettes' rich history that I would never let go of. But I think
it's important to keep the Rockettes as entertainment relevant to our
changing times.'

It was Ms Haberman who added a new favorite routine – the Rockettes
dancing on a double-decker tour bus.

But there are some things she won't
mess with: the Nutcracker minisuite, the woozy fall of the wooden
soldiers, the Living Nativity and The 12 Days of Christmas
sequences. Ms Haberman keeps those classics but is always tinkering.

Fresh routines: It was Ms Haberman who added a new favorite routine  the Rockettes dancing on a double-decker tour bus

Fresh routines: It was Ms Haberman who added a new favorite routine the Rockettes dancing on a double-decker tour bus last year

Christmas cheer: The Rockettes perform during the 76th annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in New York City

Christmas cheer: The Rockettes perform during the 76th annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in New York City

Collective costumes: Rockettes perform at Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular, benefiting the Garden of Dreams Foundation

Collective costumes: Rockettes perform at Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular, benefiting the Garden of Dreams Foundation

'I never leave anything alone because I can always make it better,'
she says. 'I don't just leave something. Even if it's been in the show
for five years.'

This year, in a nod to the anniversary, the show will have a costume
retrospective featuring Rockettes wearing some costumes they've worn
through the decades.

'It was kind of a fun way to tie it in and also
give little bits of history of where we come from,' she says.

The Rockettes have shrugged off Superstorm Sandy. Rehearsals were
canceled for three days and vans had to pick up stranded dancers, but
there will be no delays.

Star-spangled: The Rockettes perform at the opening ceremony of the inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial in 2001

Star-spangled: The Rockettes perform at the opening ceremony of the inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial in 2001

Political poses: The Democratic National convention committee get a big kick out of the welcome they are given by the Radio City Rockettes upon their arrival at Penn Station in 1990

Political poses: The Democratic National convention committee get a big kick out of the welcome they are given by the Radio City Rockettes upon their arrival at Penn Station in 1990

Lots of legs: The Rockettes Perform at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1986

Lots of legs: The Rockettes Perform at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1986

'It's like New York. Everyone's pulling
together and working hard and we'll get it done,' Haberman says.

Ms Haberman is an exacting task master. Calm, but steely. A graduate of
the School of American Ballet, she became the youngest cast member in
Bob Fosse's 'Dancin'. Precision is in her blood.

'I'm tough with the ladies,' she says. 'But I think they respect me
and I think they respect the work they're doing and that's really the
key.'

Ms Haberman, who will start work on the next show in January, rehearses
two casts at the same time – a total of 152 people – who alternate
playing the punishing schedule of five shows a day, six days a week.
There are 80 Rockettes since each show needs 36 ladies and four
standbys.

Male member Comedian Buddy Hackett gives an example of how such a line might look as he joins the world famous Rockettes backstage in 1969

Male member Comedian Buddy Hackett gives an example of how such a line might look as he joins the world famous Rockettes backstage in 1969

Famous formations: The Rockettes in Rockefeller Center in 1950

Famous formations: The Rockettes in Rockefeller Center in 1950

Boat bound: The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes line the pier as they get ready to board the ship that will take them to tour with the USO in 1945

Boat bound: The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes line the pier as they get ready to board the ship that will take them to tour with the USO in 1945

Why 36 Partly that's all the women who can happily fit
shoulder-to-shoulder along the 70-foot stage. And partly it's a number
that Ms Haberman has grown to adore.

'As a choreographer, you're always playing with formations,
especially with the Rockettes. Thirty-six is a great number because you
can divide it by two, you can divide it by three,' she says.

'Different
choreographers like different numbers. I love 36. It becomes a math
project.'

The Rockettes, some 500 applied last spring, come from different
backgrounds – some are Broadway dancers, some are Pilates instructors –
but they must stand between 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-10 1/2. That's simply
due to Ms Haberman's attempt to arrange her dancers to make a 'pleasing
effect.'

The originals: The Rockettes pictured in 1937 in their famous line

The originals: The Rockettes pictured in 1937 in their famous line

Leg work: The Rockettes of 1937 practicing the new Fete Francaise revue that made the girls a hit of the Paris Exposition

Leg work: The Rockettes of 1937 practicing the new Fete Francaise revue that made the girls a hit of the Paris Exposition

Over the years, Ms Haberman has helped hone the increasing strength and
physicality of the Rockettes. The requirement to tap dance is the one
that makes most stumble, but they often return the next year having
nailed tap.

'I look at the line now compared with when I started in the Nineties and
they've just changed. These women train like crazy, they are all so
strong and so tough and such good dancers – it's great,' she says. 'Now I
can choreograph anything. I'm not limited.'