Rockette Moms Reflect On A Season That Was Cut Short, But Still Spectacular

“We might not have been able to say our goodbyes or have our closure, but we sure gave them one hell of a show!”

If just the thought of holiday parenting makes you tired (the shopping, the wrapping, high expectations), imagine for a moment that you are also a Rockette, performing the Christmas Spectacular from the historic Radio City Music Hall. This may sound glamorous, and from the audience’s perspective it is: lines of precision dancers in heels and red lipstick. But behind the scenes, being a Rockette in December means performing up to four shows (five on exceptionally heavy days) six days a week. Each of those days is an endurance test: Rockettes do their own hair and make-up, change costumes in under two minutes, hit all their marks, and perform hundreds of their signature eye-high kicks.

Sadly, Christmas Spectacular season closed prematurely last week due to increasing concerns about Covid-19.

In this year’s group of 84, six of the Rockettes were also parents, combining the endurance test of professional dancing with the endurance test of raising young children. I met with four of these Rockette-moms on Zoom before their season abruptly ended. I wanted to know what made it possible for them, as mothers of young children (their kids range in ages from 8 months to 10 years), to give themselves so wholly to this endeavor.

Pictured: high kicks at the 2021 Christmas Spectacular, pre-cancellationPhoto courtesy of MSG Entertainment

“We can all agree that we wouldn't be able to do this if we didn't have a huge support system,” Tara Tubridy said. For all four women I spoke with, that system meant some combination of a partner, a nanny, and grandparents who either lived nearby or who were willing to travel on short notice to offer relief.

“As soon as I walk through the door, Rockette Sarah is gone and now I'm Mom.”

Each Rockette’s daily schedule requires a level of planned precision that mirrors the choreographed numbers these women perform daily. Katie described arriving home at 11 pm, prepping bottles for her 8-month-old, and then heading straight to bed. “It's blinders on, get in bed, get your sleep, because that's really what's going to heal our bodies.”

Though the effort is all-hands-on deck, managing the schedule of care largely falls to these moms. “We have a giant, color-coded whiteboard in our laundry room,” Katie Walker Henein reported, “and every doctor’s appointment, every school activity is highlighted there. I take care of that so my husband and nanny know what’s happening day to day.” As Katie described the whiteboard, everyone on the Zoom call nodded in agreement.

Sarah Wenstrom remembered that before she had kids, she’d go to bed at nine during performance season. Now, she says, she has to override her exhaustion. “As soon as I walk through the door, Rockette Sarah is gone and now I'm Mom.”

While I had expected that Rockette moms might have delegated their holiday shopping, it turned out to be yet another thing they had to fit in. Tara Tubridy reported that she’d spent the three hours before our meetup wrapping presents. “I always think that I'm going to get it done early but I don’t. I had to budget the time. I feel like any other working mom. All of us are multitasking superstars. We need to be.”

Luckily, the network of support that carries these families through the performance season remains in place for the rest of the year. Katie Walker Henein explained that having an established network has helped her accept that moms need help. She noted that her commitment to her work has helped her children form closer bonds to other people in their lives. “I see special moments they have with their nanny, and the extra special moments they have with my husband. That they get to do their own things when Mommy's not there. That carries throughout the year. When you see these special moments and relationships they've created with other people, you feel a little less guilty taking a minute for yourself.”

“You feel like a part of your being is missing when you don't get to do what you love.”

Traci Reszetylo echoed that sentiment, and pointed out that the time away from her family helps her remember to be present once she’s home. “It's such a special thing that we get to do what we love and know that our kids have these special bonds with our support systems. When we get home, they are so excited to see us and it’s a good reminder to soak up every single moment that you possibly can”.

Katie emphasized that, in spite of the demands their work requires, performing is central to her identity. “You feel like a part of your being is missing when you don't get to do what you love,” she said. “The other day, my daughter asked me if my bucket was full because that’s something she’s learning about in school: filling your bucket by doing things you love. I looked at her and said, ‘My bucket is full, because I'm home with you right now, but going to work also makes my bucket full.’ In that moment, I realized how simple it is. Being here with my second family during this busy, crazy time of year is what finishes filling my bucket. And we all deserve that.”

After the season’s end was announced, Sarah Wenstrom shared on Instagram, “Today my 10th Christmas [with the Rockettes] came to a halt. I’m sad for everyone who is a part of this magical show.” In the midst of this year’s revival, Sarah Wenstrom said she had found new meaning in the show. “I think more than ever, people need happiness and joy,” she told me, just days before the announcement. “Everyone's been through something different in the past two years. I think the show is important because it's 90 minutes of joy. And it doesn't matter who you are, you're going to walk into Radio City and whether you're on stage, or you're in the audience, you're going to be happy. That’s important right now.”

“We might not have been able to say our goodbyes or have our closure, but we sure gave them one hell of a show!”

The Christmas Spectacular has run every year since 1933, with the exception of last year when the show was canceled because of the pandemic. Because of this year’s sudden closure, this will be the second year in a row that the show hasn’t run on Christmas Day. Normally, part of their holiday tradition has been to spend Christmas mornings with their families pre-show, and then have partners and children watch the performance. “You really can't explain what it's like to have your child in the audience,” Tara Tubridy said. “It really is just pure joy.”

Sarah Wenstrom and her family
Traci Reszetylo and her daughter

Last year, when the show didn’t run at all, Traci Reszetylo appreciated the extra time with her daughter, but missed performing. “I was emotional during rehearsal, because it was hard to have that taken away from us last year. The very first audience that we had, and every single audience that we've had since — the feeling has been so special. And to see the city come alive again has been an amazing thing.”

Tara Tubridy agreed. “Having not had it for a year made me realize even more how much I love what I do. In the end I'm a better mother when I’m back at work, and my kids appreciate seeing Mommy be a hard worker and knowing that I love what I do.”

On Instagram, Tara Tubridy shared her thoughts on the season’s end. “I am choosing to see the JOY! JOY that I had the opportunity to live this crazy season we call the Christmas Spectacular with my Rox, JOY that I was able to see some of my closest friends who I have missed dearly, JOY that all 3 of my girls were able to see their mama perform for the first time ever. We might not have been able to say our goodbyes or have our closure, but we sure gave them one hell of a show!”