Rockette’s Dance Class Popular with College Students

    19 February 2023

    College student Rhapsody Stiggers is one of 38 students at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee taking a dance class that is the first of its kind.

    Her teacher, Amarisa LeBar, is a current member of the Radio City Rockettes, a famous precision dance team in New York City.

    Stiggers has been dancing since she was two years old. She has taken many kinds of dance classes. However, the 20-year-old has never had a dance class as difficult as this one.

    Amarisa LeBar, front, a Radio City Rockette, leads students in a Rockettes dance class Feb. 8, 2023, at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)
    Amarisa LeBar, front, a Radio City Rockette, leads students in a Rockettes dance class Feb. 8, 2023, at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

    The class is the first for-credit college course taught by a Rockette dancer. The dance instructor teaches the detailed, precise technique the Rockettes are known for. The dancers move and kick together in perfect time.

    Stiggers is skilled in dance forms including ballet, modern, jazz, salsa, and West African. But she said that "no other style of dance really emphasizes the precision of every single body part." She added that this high level of attention to precision makes this a very different dance class.

    Teacher LeBar has been a Rockette for about five years. She is 25 years old and started teaching at her mother's dance business at the age of 16. She finds sharing the Rockettes' style with college students intense.

    "Teaching on a Rockette level is completely different and is a lot more difficult to do because we really tune in to the perfection of our movement," LeBar told the Associated Press.

    The Rockettes use tap, ballet, and jazz forms in their dances. The class also teaches strength training and choreography. Dancers learn methods that can be used in many other kinds of dance.

    The class is not only difficult, it is also one of the most popular dance classes at the performing arts school. Places in the class fill up fast, said Mila Thigpen. She heads dance at the conservatory.

    The Rockettes group is known for a yearly performance called the "Christmas Spectacular." In that show, they perform one of their best-known moves – high kicking at exactly the same time.

    Dancing like a Rockette not only requires precision, it requires hard work. Rockettes rehearse six hours per day, six days a week. Another important requirement? Students must love being part of a team.

    "So, to be a Rockette, first off you have to have a love of wanting to work together as a team," said Julie Branam, who began her dancing career 36 years ago. She is director and choreographer of the Rockettes show "Christmas Spectacular." That show first performed in 1933. It is said that 69 million people have seen the Rockettes perform it over the years.

    To make sure every dancer moves the same, everything the performers do is examined closely, Branam said. "We're checking what 36 people do in that line over and over again ... ‘Is your head at the same angle? Is you arm at the same height?'"

    She added: "So, it's the willingness of wanting to work as one to make the effort of the 36 (dancers) look beautiful."

    The college-level class is an extension of the Rockettes' dancer development program. Only promising dancers are invited.

    Rhapsody Stiggers has been very moved by the experience. In fact, one day she may try out for the Rockettes. She said it is a fun goal to have.

    "If I don't get in," she said, "it's still useful knowledge that I've learned that can carry on into the rest of my career."

    I'm Anna Matteo.

    Mark Pratt reported this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    precision –adj. the quality of being exact and making no error

    technique –n. a way of doing something that uses a special knowledge or skill

    style –n. a particular form or design of as it relates to something

    emphasize –v. to place importance or call attention to

    tune in --v. (phrasal) to listen to and pay attention to something carefully

    choreography –n. the job of telling dancers how they will dance and move during their performances

    rehearse –v. to prepare for a public performance by practicing it repeatedly

    career –n. the path someone's work or profession follows