Radio City Rockettes | Interview
On casual Friday, two women in sequined dresses walk into the TOC offices. Gabrielle Del Re and Kristina Larson-Hauk are the quintessential glamour girls of the Radio City Rockettes. Dressed in show attire from head to toe, they make their press rounds promoting their upcoming holiday performance at the Akoo Theatre at Rosemont. “It was funny,” Larson-Hauk says. “Someone on the train came up to us and said, ‘I love your dresses. I dress like that all the time.’”
What’s a typical day for a Rockette like?
GDR: During season we rehearse six days a week for seven hours a day. Our days mainly consist of 10am–5pm rehearsal. We tech from 1–10pm or 1–11pm. Then the show opens and we do up to five shows a day. We have two casts: a morning cast and an evening cast. I’m in the evening cast. My shows usually start at four or five o’clock. I can have my latest show at ten o’clock. The early cast, I believe their earliest show can be at nine in the morning.
This isn’t strictly holiday related, though. Your schedule is year-round?
KLH: We’re full-time holiday-related. That’s when we have our busy schedule, but we’re constantly doing out-of-season work, doing charitable events or going to other cities and doing performances, TV shows. We do a lot of random gigs in the off-season, but full-time is basically the end of September to the beginning of January. We’re constantly working. And loving it. [Laughs]
What are your training backgrounds?
GDR: I’m primarily trained in classical ballet and I dance with a company during the off-season. I trained in jazz, tap and modern, but ballet was my primary training.
I’ve heard that tap is a big stipulation for a Rockette to know.
KLH: Yeah, it is. I trained in everything. I didn’t really focus on just one style. As a kid I was in every class possible. I liked learning a bit of everything.
Sounds like you both are well-versed in many forms. How did you end up Rockettes?
GDR: I watched the tree lighting as a child and so I always knew of the Rockettes. I thought they were so glamorous and elegant. As a little girl it was something like, ‘Oh, I want to be that!’ I was so disciplined in ballet that I hadn’t thought about pursuing it. After high school, I went right into a ballet company and my sister was auditioning for the Rockettes. I tagged along and I ended up getting the job and falling in love with it.
Did your sister get it? Were there squabbles between siblings?
GDR: She did! It was funny because it was the first time we actually worked together. I was always primarily jazz and she did music videos. We were on opposite ends of the spectrum and never got to work together until Radio City. That was really neat.
KLH: I’m kind of the same story. I watched them growing up, loved them, thought they were so glamorous, but didn’t really think it was attainable. I didn’t know how to get to that level. I had a male friend that was in the [Christmas Spectacular] ensemble, so I went and saw him. I left crying because I wanted to do it so bad. I thought it was so cool. My mom was a huge fan, and we were both crying after seeing the show. I found out where the next audition was. I didn’t get it the first year, but I still wanted to do it. At that point, I knew Gabrielle and her sister. I was getting pointers from them, and so I went back the next year and got it.
What kind of pointers?
KLH: Attention to detail is really big. They want to make sure you’re paying attention to all the little details and not putting your own spin on it. What they teach is what they want. You don’t get to personalize or flare it up like I probably did in that first audition. [Laughs] You have to pay attention and do as much as they teach you—the details of the hand and all that.
Sounds military style.
KLH: Yeah, a little bit. There’s not a whole lot of talking during rehearsal, except for the people in the front of the room. [Laughs]
What’s a rehearsal like?
GDR: We all get along really well. It’s not like it’s a mean environment. It is strict, but there’s a lot of respect in the room. We have to learn so much in a short amount of time that there’s not really time to, you know…your mind is just focused on learning your work, learning your piece, getting it clean, knowing your position at all times, knowing what’s going on around you at all times. We have a grid on the floor that we work with. It’s different colored lines and numbers and letters. There’s a lot to absorb during a rehearsal day. It’s more about staying super focused so you can do your job well.
Is it tough, being creative-minded and then to have this regiment? Do you ever feel like you want to let loose?
KLH: My first year, definitely. My mind was blown because I had never danced with lines or numbers, or so close to people. It was so new to stay in line while dancing. You can’t make your own travels. Everything’s there and you have a very set spot every step you take. That was hard to wrap my mind around and be conscious of everything at once, like, ‘Okay, I got my numbers. Crap! I’m not in line anymore.’ To do all that at once was a lot. But we also have the opportunity in the off-season to pursue other aspects of dance where you can let loose on the creative side. If you want to work in a company, or do solo work, or do musical theater, you can. It’s not regimented all the time. But that’s what makes us so precise.
You’re also public figures, in a sense. What kind of preparations do you go through in that regard?
GDR: We have PR training at the beginning of the season. It’s just as important for us. Obviously, little girls look up to us and we are in the public eye. It’s super important to represent the Rockettes in the best way possible, in the best light possible. We always have to be aware, be conscious. We love what we do. It’s very easy to have this interview and let you know what we love about it, and what works and what doesn’t.
Can either of you recall the best memory of being a Rockette, and maybe the worst memory?
KLH: I have one. It’s not totally show-related. My husband proposed to me during a season. It was very special. Gabrielle was there with me—she’s one of my best friends. Being able to have my Rockette sisters and friends there…
GDR: …at the theater where we were performing.
KLH: I thought it was a PR event. I thought it was this big ol’ hoopla.
How did it go down?
KLH: He set up this scheme to get me to believe I was doing something. They called me last minute the night before, saying it was for Make A Wish Foundation. They knew I wouldn’t say no to that. At that point, I had plans to go out with my family. [My husband] was like, ‘Just go do it, it’s fine.’ I get there in the morning, we’re prepping, we go up, we’re in the lobby of the theater. The company manager hit the boom box and [the Rockette] song came over the sound system. I look over at Gabrielle, I step back and my husband was walking down the stairs in a suit, got down on his knee in front of the Christmas tree. Our families were hiding under the stairs and saw the whole thing.
That’s like the magical moment.
KLH: It was pretty good. [Laughs]
The Rockettes have been described as living the American Dream. Do you feel like you’re living the American Dream?
KLH: Wow. Well, I’m living my personal dream. I don’t know if it’s every American’s dream. We’re definitely an American icon. I can see how that could be corroborated. There’s so much history with the legacy of the Radio City Rockettes. You see them, and I’m sure everyone thinks the U.S. Anyone overseas who sees us automatically thinks of America and New York. I’m not sure if that’s a good answer. It’s definitely a dream come true. It’s a huge honor to be part of such an amazing group of women and to do this for years and years and years.
GDR: I feel really lucky that the Rockettes are still something that little girls can look up to. It’s a positive role model of strong women, classy women and great dancers. It’s an overall positive package to look up to. There’s not necessarily a lot of that out there for young girls anymore.
The Radio City Rockettes (sequined dresses and all) perform in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular December 14 through December 30 at the Akoo Theatre at Rosemont. Tickets available by calling 800-745-3000, or online at ticketmaster.com.