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December 12, 2012

Kick It

dressing room

Photo Credit: Ashley Macknica

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It quickly becomes apparent that this is also a brain workout: As if learning the steps isn't enough, each Rockette has to memorize her place onstage at each point in every routine in the show, marked by numbers along the front of the stage that correspond with the Rockette formations. So what seems to effortlessly flow across the stage is in fact a series of plotted points on an x/y graph — which brings me closer to math than I care to get. As I fall in and out of various plot points, my head is throbbing and my muscles are starting to fail. After a few hours of this nonsense, we mercifully break for the day.

Once practice is over, I quiz the dancers, curious to know more about their demanding schedules. These athletes have a training schedule that would make Tracy Anderson curl up into a ball and weep. For the duration of the eight-week performance season, the Rockettes do up to five 90-minute shows per day for six straight days, with an average of 17 to 25 shows per week. Oh, and during the six weeks prior to showtime, they rehearse for six hours a day — in those shoes, no less. Ice baths and injuries are extremely common. In between rehearsals and shows, they fuel up on PB&Js, thanks to the one-two punch of protein and carbs for energy, which they wash down with gallons of coconut water (the high potassium content helps prevent dehydration and muscle cramps) and, of all things, candy, for the occasional quick energy boost. "Greens make you bloat," one dancer warns.

But despite the blistered toes, stiff necks, and shin splints, the Rockettes remain ruthlessly cheerful, emitting an otherworldly glow, as if they weren't raised in Oneonta and Richmond, as they claim, but shipped in straight from the North Pole. Before I limp away, I have to know how they keep those 80-watt smiles going for hours on end. Vaseline on the teeth? Collagen injections? It's far simpler: practice. "It's a muscle," says one dancer. "You have to train it." If there were an Olympics for beaming, these girls would take the gold.

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