The Radio City Rockette: Mary Cavett

January 3, 2012

If you close your eyes, and think of the Radio City Rockettes, you can probably hear the mesmerizing clickity-clack of their tap shoes as they kick in sparkly chorus line unison. They are beautiful and perfect and I wanted to be one of them. Doesn’t every little girl?


Do you remember the scene from the movie Annie, when the Rockettes were portrayed in “Let’s go to the Movies”? I watched it over and over again studying every single step…


I wonder how many of us waited with utter excitement, year after year, to see their performance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? And the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers at Radio City Music Hall… all such magical memory making performances.

I would bet that most of us has at least one thing in common with a Radio City Rockette… we all had the exact same dream… and for Mary, it actually came true!

where are you from?
I’m a desert baby, born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. I now live in Brooklyn. This August marks my 10th year in New York, which, rumor has it, officially makes me a New Yorker!

what did you want to be when you were a little girl?
Despite momentary desires to be a veterinarian, an astronaut, a nun, a witch, and a CIA covert operative, I always wanted to be a performer! My mother tells me that in pre-school I would dance in front of the windows on a stage I’d built out of large wooden building blocks. I was always singing and dancing and playing extravagant games of make-believe. I wanted to be on stage.

what do you do now?
I am so lucky to say that I’m living my dream! I am a Radio City Rockette and an actress in New York City!

what was your journey like to becoming a rockette?
I first wanted to be a Rockette after I saw them portrayed in the number “Let’s Go to the Movies” from the movie musical “ANNIE.” I could probably still do all the choreography from that film I watched it so many times! And, of course, every year I would glue myself to the TV to see the Rockettes perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I grew up taking ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance classes. I trained very seriously to be a ballerina until I was 18 and then decided to shift artistic focus and go to college in New York to study acting (I graduated from NYU with a BFA in Theatre). In the spring of my freshman year, I saw that Radio City was having their annual open auditions for the Rockettes and I had to go! I waited in a line of nearly 500 women that circled Radio City Music Hall. We were ushered into the building in groups of 60. They measured our height in stocking feet (you have to be between 5’6” and 5’10 ½”. I’m 5’7 ½”) and then we got to dance. We were taught tap and jazz dance combinations, which we had to do perform in groups of 3, and then were asked either to stay and learn more choreography or to go home. I didn’t make it past the first cut that day! But I’d learned a great deal about the specific style of the dance and the incredible attention to detail that they were looking for. Over the next few years I auditioned 3 more times before I was offered the job. Each time getting further along in the process: making it through the cuts, getting a callback, making it through the callback, getting measured for costumes, and then finally getting that marvelous telephone call inviting me to join the Radio City Rockettes. I think I stopped traffic on 51st and 9th with my resounding “WoooooHooooo!” This year will be my 4th season as a Rockette in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular!

what is your work/training schedule like?  do you have an off season?  what do you do?
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is currently the only full-length show that the Rockettes perform in at the Music Hall. We begin rehearsals in late September and then perform nearly 200 shows from November to January. We rehearse 6 hours a day, 6 days a week drilling the choreography and focusing on details as specific as the angle of the tilt of your chin or the placement of a pinky finger, in order to achieve the precision for which the Rockettes are famous. Once the show is open, we will perform in as many as 4 shows per day! Sometimes we’ll only have half an hour between shows, just enough time to eat a PB&J, touch up your make-up and get back on the stage. Outside the Christmas season, the Rockettes have many opportunities to perform for special appearances, conventions, television and film events, but we also have to keep in shape for the upcoming season; I take dance classes, yoga and spinning.

what is personal life like outside the rockettes?
When I’m not rehearsing or performing as a Rockette I’m pursuing my acting career, auditioning and performing for stage, film and TV. Currently, I’m playing Lady Macbeth in an outdoor production of Macbeth in Brooklyn. I’m also collaborating with a group of astonishing artists to develop an immersive theatrical experience inspired by Hamlet for production next year, and I create small clowning performances with The Ragdoll Engine Collective. I try to see live theatre and dance as frequently as I can. Living in NYC offers me endless opportunities to see incredible and inspiring performers from around the world. I also work for my friend’s candy company, Liddabit Sweets, packaging and selling delicious artisanal candies!

how many kicks do you do a show? is there a lot of pain involved with what you do?
The Rockettes do nearly 300 of our famous eye-high kicks per show. Which, on a 4-show day means nearly 1,200 kicks, or 4,500 kicks in a 15-show week! No one said this job was easy!! =)The physical demands of the choreography and the extremely busy show schedule can be grueling on the body. We aren’t just dancers but elite athletes.  We work very hard to build the necessary strength and stamina to safely get through the season. Luckily we have athletic trainers with us every hour of the day to help prevent and rehabilitate any injuries. We’ve seen bruises, sprains, pulled and torn muscles, tendonitis, bursitis, concussions, even a black eye! But most of us come away unscathed. Many of us take ice baths after rehearsals and performances to help reduce swelling and to release the lactic acid built up in the muscles. I swear by it! But I do like to have a piece of cake in the ice tub with me to help me forget how cold it is!

what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
I hope to still be a Radio City Rockette (we all have to re-audition every year, so you never know!)  I also hope to be performing in a play on Broadway and to perform original work in the BAM Next Wave Festival.  Perhaps own an apartment… perhaps start a family…

it’s time for a break.  what will you do?  the sky is the limit.
Sleep. Bake a pie. See my family. Travel.

what words of encouragement do you have for those who dream of being a dancer but it’s just not in the cards.
I don’t really believe in things “not being in the cards.” We never know quite what the world has in store for us, and we hardly ever realize just how capable and extraordinary we all are.  I think it is extremely important to follow your dreams with incredible passion and determination while being open to allow those dreams to shift and change. You never know what you’ll find on the journey. I never became the ballerina that I strove to be, but I became a great many other things. I would say: Always dance, even if it’s only for yourself. Always love and support the arts because that is where our humanity thrives.

what does it feel like to be on stage performing?
Once I get out of my own way and past the nerves (which I always have!), it is pure joy! It is exhilarating and empowering and just plain old fun! There is magic in a live theatrical event. You connect with hundreds, even thousands of other people sitting in this one room together.  It’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of blood, sweat and tears. It’s teamwork and collaboration and unity. I love it!

what do you want people to know about what you do?
It’s an absolute honor to be a Radio City Rockette, to be a part of a historic sisterhood and a legendary American dance company. The Rockettes have been performing at Radio City Music Hall since 1932! To be a part of something so much larger than myself, to be a part of such a supportive and hard working team is humbling. And, it’s harder than it looks! We work tirelessly to make the dances appear effortless. But this is undoubtedly the hardest job I’ve ever had! We are not striving for perfection, we are required to achieve it. Every step, every turn of a head, lift of an arm, angle of your focus, must be precise. Every place that you stand on stage has an exact coordinate on an invisible grid. It’s not enough to know the choreography; you must also place it perfectly on the grid of the stage. And on top of all that, you have to find the grace, the artistry and the freedom to express who you are. It’s a beautiful challenge!

who inspires you?
My mother. My siblings (I’m the youngest of 4). My insanely talented friends. Each and every Rockette in the line. And anyone who dares to make Art their life, and embraces the daily struggle to create and be heard.

what do you collect?
I keep the playbill from every show I see. I also keep boxes of letters and cards; there’s something very special about handwritten thoughts and wishes that I’m terrified we’ll lose in this age of technology.