Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
There is one particular scene in the The New York Spectacular where all 36 Radio City Rockettes dancers emerge from below the stage aglow in Times Square. The Rockettes are literally making the city come alive with electricity — a moment that is so New York.
The New York Spectacular, the summer season show that comes on the heels of last spring’s off-season debut, takes the audience to the city’s most iconic sites — Times Square, Wall Street, Central Park— as the Rockettes shimmy and high-kick in a number of custom-made costumes, some of which are decked out in tech. In that particular scene described above, the dancers wear jackets with 152 LED lights and three mic packs in each; 31 individual and programmable cues mimic the lights of The Great White Way.
Racked recently went backstage with two veteran Rockettes — Alissa LaVergne, who’s in her sixth season, and Tiffany Griffin, in her seventh — for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Radio City costume closet to get the scoop on the magic that makes the show possible, why dancers wear two pairs of tights (Beyoncé does this, too!), and the last thing they went shopping for IRL.
On landing the role of a lifetime:
"I started dancing when I was eight and I loved it," LaVergne said. "Of course I saw the Rockettes in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I grew up on the West Coast, so I never saw them live until the year before I auditioned. I’ve been a Rockette for seven years now — it's such an incredible job."
Griffin agreed: "I have kind of the same story. I’m from Texas, and it was family tradition to get up really early and watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I auditioned, made it through the first year, [but] didn’t get it. Came back the second year and I got it. I’m going on seven years, I think? I lost track! It was my childhood dream. It’s really cool to be able to do this everyday."
On the individual costumes the dancers wear for the "Vogue" number:
"This is the very first time, ever I think, that there are 36 different costumes matched per Rockette," said LaVergne. "It was really cool when we all got to see everyone's costumes on for the first time. They all matched each person’s personality."
"It's really neat that we get to have a moment that shows us as individuals," she continued. "Then we all come up on the pit in the back, hit a silhouette, and come charging down stage as one. So you have all 36 individual women looking different, but as a whole it’s so powerful."
On that sparkly Egyptian costume for the "Met" scene:
"This to me is one of the prettiest on stage — we kept it very sleek with the gold and the black and stones everywhere, and we’ve upgraded [from last year] to this custom-made LaDuca shoe," LaVergne said. "You’d be surprised how many people walk by in the streets and ask, ‘Can I just take that and wear it with my outfit today?’"
On how to avoid chafing from all those sequins:
"This is designed for us to look look like coins — very rich," said LaVergne of the costumes worn for "Money," the Rockettes’ take on Wall Street. "This bodysuit protects our skin from the sequins, because they’re sharp! And we have custom cloche caps that are fitted to each Rockette’s head to hook underneath our buns, so the cap stays on. And then we have these gorgeous cuffs that have all been individually applied with sequins. "
On dancing in the rain (and loving it):
"This is a repeat look from last year[‘s spring show], but a completely different number," LaVergne said. "To me, it brings it back to the traditional Rockette style that we’re used to. We wear a nice leotard underneath, because obviously it's raining buckets and buckets of water and that helps keep us dry, and we kept the vinyl jacket. But we’ve changed to be a bit more feminine: Each jacket has hand-sewn flowers around the neckline and belt."
"I really don’t mind dancing in the rain," said Griffin. "We do get fully wet, but it's just so fun — like being a little kid again."
On wearing two pairs of tights, just like Beyoncé:
"We wear a tan or regular tight as our base tights for the entire show," LaVergne said. "In the ‘42nd Street’ number, we put the black fishnets over them — we don’t have time to take the tan tights off!"
"It's also easier to get tights on this way, as opposed to on a sweaty leg," Griffin confirmed. "It also keeps everything slim and concealed, and it adds a little sparkle."
On the finale’s iconic moment:
"The curtain comes down at the very top of [the number] and reveals the skyline of New York with the Rockettes. It's a very cool moment. The ending is something that keeps us so classic. The Rockettes are only in New York, only at Radio City Music Hall, and ties everything up in the end."
"I think this is such a beautiful look," said Griffin. "We finally get into our famous side-high kicks at the very end of the show, which I think people have been waiting for. It's classic Rockette."
On foot care for dancers:
"Pedicures obviously help, but I think sometimes having a nice calloused foot can help with dancing," LaVergne said. "We also have an amazing athletic training department — they take care of us so well. They have everything in order for us if we need to tape, wrap, or ice our feet afterwards. We have a doctor come in if anyone is having any foot problems."
On one little-known backstage secret:
"We do our own hair and makeup," LaVergne revealed. "A lot of people don’t realize that. It’s great because everyone has different skin tones and features, so we’re able to pick and choose the products we feel make us look our best."
On shopping IRL:
"The last thing I bought was my opening dress at A Tempo on the Upper West Side," LaVergne said. "They have a bunch of interesting, one-of-a-kind types of dresses. I bought this dress that was black with this honeycomb mesh over it, and it’s my new obsession. I got so many compliments on it that night!"
"The last thing I probably purchased was at the Capezio sample sale — like, work out tops," Griffin said.
"There are several girls who live for a sample sale here," LaVergne added. "Oh my gosh! Every time we come in for a show, they are just carrying bags and bags."
The New York Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes is open through August 7th, and you can get your tickets here.