Monday, November 20, 2017
Stage

Tampa native finds her place in the Rockettes' Christmas kick line

RECOMMENDED READING


Nicole Baker can't see the faces of her friends and family as she kicks her way across the stage of New York's Radio City Music Hall. There was a time when she'd map out her place in Rockettes routines to help her mother find her in the militarily precise dance numbers of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

"I'd draw up diagrams to show her where I'd be standing at the beginning so she could follow along," Baker, 34, a native of Tampa, said. "Now, she can just pick me out."

A diagram won't help her 10-month-old daughter, Liv — her third child in six years — find Mommy in the pack of 36 dancers moving swiftly across the stage. But Baker's just glad that her children can see their mother doing what she loves for 16 shows a week through the new year.

"I don't know. Every year, I think, 'I can't believe I've been doing it this long.' It's been 10 years already," Baker said. "I'm not ready to give up this life."

It's a life of blending in rather than standing out. It's a life of grueling practice schedules and physical demands. It's a life of commuting from New Jersey six days a week and seeing her relatives in passing or for quick meals during the most wonderful time of the year.

She compensates by taking her vacations to Tampa to be with her family and friends from Mary Jo's Academy of the Performing Arts and Blake High School. Her parents and friends, in turn, come to see her every year in the pinnacle of her career, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

To prepare, all dancers rehearse six hours a day, six days a week for months. The jam-packed schedule reflects the run of the show, which is performed every day, several times a day, from Thanksgiving week through Jan. 3. Creative directors divide the troupe into two teams of 36 dancers with four alternates, but that still means each dancer will likely perform 16 times a week through December.

Baker calls it a small price for a place in history.

"My favorite number would have to be Soldier. There are no kicks, but the movements are so precise, and it's been performed since 1933," she said. "To be able to get up there and perform a piece in the same way that it has been done for decades is a great feeling."

She also feels great about living her dream to be a professional dancer without giving up her dream to become a mother. She knew it would be difficult, but she credits her supportive husband with her ability to get back to work almost immediately after giving birth.

"I went back into rehearsals two weeks after I had Liv," she said. "My doctor cleared me to return, so I went right back."

At 34, she knows that the clock may be running out on a physically demanding career like dance. Dancers re-audition for their places in the Rockettes annually, and ability is the biggest factor in getting a spot.

Baker heard about Rockette auditions in Los Angeles while attending the University of Arizona in Tucson. She made the trip out in 2003 and got the lone job offer out of the 200 women that made it to the tryout.

"The first year was really difficult because I was the only new girl on my line," she said. "But it got easier over time." Now she's nearly indistinguishable from her colleagues on stage, a high honor for a venerable Rockette.

Moving to New York was jarring, the cold weather and crowded streets, but it only took one Christmas for the Florida girl to fall in love and never look back. She has since become a fan of snow around the holidays, layered clothing and the gorgeous decorations inside and outside Radio City that reflect the season.

Being in New York at Christmastime comes second only to seeing the historic holiday show.

From the classic show-ending Rockettes kick line to the choreographed routines with Santa Claus, the Christmas Spectacular is as much a part of America's traditions as hot dogs and fireworks. People who have never made the trip to New York in December have seen the storied Rockettes performing either in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or on televised holiday specials. The troupe also tours the country with its shows, extending the legend from coast to coast.

But Baker said the Rockettes really shine in New York at the holiday season.

"There's just something about being in New York at Christmas. Sure, it's cold. But the atmosphere, the tree at Rockerfeller Center. It's just magical."

Contact Robbyn Mitchell at [email protected] Follow @RMitchellTimes.

Comments
It’s a Doo Wop holiday at the Show Palace

It’s a Doo Wop holiday at the Show Palace

HUDSON — Music brings the Rudolph family together in A Doo Wop Christmas, which opens Saturday and runs through Dec. 25 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.This new production, directed by Peter Clapsis (The Great American Trailer Park Musical) with m...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/18/17
What’s on stage this week: Benji Brown, ‘No Man’s Land’ on screen, Florida Orchestra does Bruch

What’s on stage this week: Benji Brown, ‘No Man’s Land’ on screen, Florida Orchestra does Bruch

KIKI OR BUST: BENJI BROWNWherever Benji Brown goes, Kiki follows. The comic, known for his work on the Rickey Smiley Morning Show, created the fast-talking female character on the fly when he called a girl’s house in high school and her boyfriend pic...
Published: 11/15/17
American Stage’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is just what the love doctor ordered

American Stage’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is just what the love doctor ordered

ST. PETERSBURG — A centuries-old template for the rom-com as we know it and one of Shakespeare’s most produced comedies, Much Ado About Nothing comes to us at a time when we can really use some love conquering all. Just what the love doctor ordered, ...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Review: With a fine script, Stage West cast puts on a great show in ‘Baggage’

Review: With a fine script, Stage West cast puts on a great show in ‘Baggage’

Okay, I’ll admit I went into the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill on opening night of the comedy Baggage expecting another June/moon/spoon romance-comedy. And sure enough, that’s just the way it started.A man and a woman grab ea...
Published: 11/10/17
Updated: 11/16/17
From stickup to stand-up, bank robber's second act is comedy

From stickup to stand-up, bank robber's second act is comedy

TAMPA — He had dreamed about returning to comedy in odd moments, between meetings with the lawyer, the lonely trip to the correctional institute, picking up trash on state roads while a guard stood by with a rifle. This nightmare would make him...
Published: 11/10/17
Updated: 11/12/17
Sammy Hagar talks Clearwater concert, tequila and Van Halen drama

Sammy Hagar talks Clearwater concert, tequila and Van Halen drama

The Red Rocker calls on time, and he is all kinds of fired up."Hey, Jay, Sammy Hagar here. Are you ready for me?"Is anyone ever truly ready for a phone call from Hagar, the flame-haired, motor-mouthed ex-Van Halen singer who once dubbed himself the C...
Published: 11/09/17
Updated: 11/12/17
What’s on stage this week: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Key West, Travis Wall Shaping Sound

What’s on stage this week: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Key West, Travis Wall Shaping Sound

AMERICAN STAGE: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHINGTwo couples nearly come apart at the seams for different reasons, the premise for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, opening at American Stage. This version is set in Key West in the 1940s, the end of World Wa...
Published: 11/08/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Review: ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ at Stageworks

Review: ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ at Stageworks

At the beginning of The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion acknowledges that the audience might not want to hear her story because we don’t think it could happen to us."It will happen to you," Didion says with a rueful smile, and of course she’s r...
Published: 11/06/17
Updated: 11/07/17
What's on stage this week: 'The Year of Magical Thinking,' Florida Orchestra milestone concert, John Cleese

What's on stage this week: 'The Year of Magical Thinking,' Florida Orchestra milestone concert, John Cleese

STAGEWORKS: MINING GRIEF FOR HEALING The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s no-frills memoir of loss and recovery, opens at Stageworks Theatre this weekend. The essayist and screenwriter adapted the one-woman stage play herself. Didion w...
Published: 11/01/17
Updated: 11/08/17
Romantic comedy ‘Baggage’ opens Nov. 9 at Stage West

Romantic comedy ‘Baggage’ opens Nov. 9 at Stage West

The romantic comedy Baggage opens at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Shows will continue at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 19. Phyllis Novack and Bradley Naught...
Updated one month ago