Esme Benjamin: What’s the most challenging thing about being a Rockette?
Hannah Sides: The schedule during the Christmas season is really intense. Rehearsals happen six hours a day, six days a week, and during the tech process, when we’re in dress rehearsals, it’s even longer. While performing the Christmas Spectacular we do four shows per day, seven days a week. The choreography is deceivingly complex, but the Rockettes have the style and grace to make it look effortless.
EB: Is being a Rockette a year-round job?
HS: It is a year round job. We do a lot of events, like America’s got talent, that round out the rest of the year for us, and there’s also the New York Spectacular which runs at Radio City Music Hall throughout the summer months.
EB: How long did it take you to learn the choreography?
HS: I’m also dance captain and assistant choreographer, so I teach the routines to the Rockettes. It usually takes us three weeks to teach the show and get it perfected. The process is fast; we learn one number for three days, then have one day of cleaning it up and making it precise.
EB: Do you have a recovery routine?
HS: We have an amazing athletic training department, including ice baths — which really aids recovery, for my feet in particular — and physical therapy. I also use a foam roller which helps achy-ness and lactic acid build-up.
EB: What about your off-duty self-care?
HS: I love to take hot vinyasa yoga as a kind of recovery. It stretches everything out and keeps muscles long and loose feeling. It’s also invaluable for keeping me centered during the craziness of my schedule.
EB: The toy soldiers dance is incredible. How do you perform the dominos-like topple at the end?
HS: The fall is deceivingly challenging. Everyone needs to be strong and really be there for person in front of them. It’s actually symbolic of the Rockettes as a whole — we’re such a supportive group of strong females, and this section of the show really embodies that.
EB: Talk me through what you eat in an average day.
HS: I like to start the day with oatmeal, fruit and eggs. It’s so important we get energy in our systems between each show, so I eat smaller meals — bigger, more filling ones are hard to dance on — with a good mix of protein and carbs. Grilled chicken and rice is a typical example. Simple food with plenty of energy.
EB: The holidays are traditionally a time for eating rich food and boozing a lot. How do you reconcile that diet with your dancing? Do you have to be extremely restrained?
HS: With the number of shows we do (17 every week) we can have that slice of pizza or cookie and not even think about it. I treat them as a well-earned reward.
EB: What are some exercises people can try at home that would build up the leg strength needed to be a Rockette?
HS: To perform kick lines we need a strong core, so I like to do planks on my elbows and hands.
When it comes to building up leg strength, lunges and yoga poses are great. The aim is to get lean, strong muscles in both the front and the back of the leg, so it’s best to counter the lunge with a hamstring extension. Hamstrings need to be strong to pull a high kick back down.