• Alicia Assad

14 Life Lessons I Learned as a Rockette

My childhood dream was inspired by the thought, "Why not me?"

Last year, I collected my Rockette memories and shared them with Catherine's second grade class to support their studies of New York City.

Since I am more of a writer than a dancer these days, I created a slide show to accompany my presentation about the life lessons I learned in living out my childhood dream. Inspiring Catherine's class with an experience I lived was more rewarding than I anticipated, so when I was asked to help her Girl Scout Troop earn their dance badge, I didn't hesitate to say, "Yes!"

We had a blast yesterday, so I decided to share a sketch of my presentation with you here in case you have a little girl with a big dream.

Or maybe, you have a dream of your own in your heart?

I sure do, and revisiting my past reminds me of the things I must do to get a book deal!

Since the holiday season is upon us, and I believe we are never too young or too old to dream big, here are the 14 Life Lessons I Learned as a Rockette:

1. Dream Big

Every year on Thanksgiving morning, my grandmother called to wake me up saying, "The Rockettes are on!" Annually, I watched the sparkle-clad, red-lipped iconic women I admired dancing in the televised Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. When I actually saw The Radio City Christmas Spectacular live, my heart raced with excitement at the thought that I could actually dance at Radio City when I grew up. I was nothing more than a passionate dancer from a small town in New Jersey, who clung to an inspiring thought:

Why not me?

2. Get Motivated

Once I realized I wanted to be a Rockette, I thought to myself, How am I going to make it happen?

I became a disciplined dancer, and I spent every second of my spare time in a studio or on stage all the way through college. My life revolved around dance, which meant I often sacrificed fun for work, but I was always surrounded by like-minded individuals who were equally as passionate about performing. Other dancers mattered, and were always the secret to my motivation.

3. Ask for Help

I prepped my entire life to become a Rockette by perfecting my ballet, tap and jazz techniques. However, the precision dancing the Rockettes do is in a league of its own. To get the training I needed to make it into the line, I had no choice but to ask for help. When I did, the dance community was eager to support me, let me to the four former Rockettes who helped me out. Could I have pulled it off on my own? Maybe, but their secrets about technique, attire, and hair styles gave me the confidence and edge I needed in the audition process.

4. Take Risks

While training with one of these former Rockettes, she said to me, "Alicia you need to audition even if you don't feel you are ready yet." While I wanted to wait until my technique was perfect, I was nudged to stretch outside my comfort zone. Those early audition experiences were terrifying, but each time I gained more confidence and improved. I rely on this lesson frequently as a writer, because if I sit around waiting for my work to be perfect before publishing, I'll never publish a darn thing. Needless to say, I take risks every Friday when I write for you!

5. Don't Quit

Year after year, I went Radio City Music Hall and stood in a line of Rockette hopefuls so long, it literally wrapped around a city block! The first few times I was cut immediately, but then I finally made it all the way down to the final round. I was called back the next day and danced again, but still, I didn't get hired. I left the hall countless times with my head down in defeat, but failure and rejection are things any successful individual will tell you they faced on a path to success.

6. Be Resilient

During one audition, I slipped and fell flat on my butt. I was mortified, but without hesitation, I picked myself up and kept on dancing. No, I did not get hired that day, and I was especially distraught because the casting directors keep detailed notes of every Rockette hopeful. I knew this stumble was going in my file. I eventually was hired anyway, because I modeled the resilience every dancer must have. If something goes awry on stage, you must keep dancing so it's more important to be resilient than perfect!

7. Maintain Hope

The day of my big break, I assumed the show was cast, and I had to wait a whole season to try again. In the meantime, I was still hopeful that I could land any professional dancing gig, and was making my way through the NYC audition circuit. After being cut from a broadway audition, I bumped into a friend who asked, "Are you auditioning for Radio City later?" I had just enough time to go home, get my Rockette attire, and make the audition I wouldn't have known about otherwise. Radio City was looking for just one dancer to fill in for a sick Rockette. I was hired the next day and started rehearsals three weeks later!

8. Work Hard

If getting hired was incredibly difficult, keeping up with a line of seasoned professionals is even harder. I remember my first day as a Rockette like it was yesterday, and spent most of it wondering when they were going to tell me to take a hike! But every new Rockette starts somewhere and I moved through those moments of intense self-doubt with hard work. I mastered the routines just in time to start performing up to five shows on a steel stage, which suggests hard work is a given both to achieve and to maintain any dream.

9. Savor

A wise woman once told me, "Remember to remember," and I carried this advice into my Rockette experience. The year I was in the line, there was turmoil behind the scenes due to contract negotiations and union strikes. Tensions were high, and this threatened to sap my joy from the dream I worked so hard to experience. I made it a point to focus on and remember what was good. I gained a heart full of memories despite the drama that unfolded.

10. Laugh

Off stage, the Rockettes were a goofy bunch, and on those long hard days of dancing, laughter is often what kept me going. In fact, when I returned to dancing after over a decade (for a one-time performance you can read about here), I was laughing as I tapped back into the spotlight, and that experience of humor calmed my nerves.

11. Stay Humble and Kind

What the audience never sees is the dressers, stage hands, and designers working behind the scenes to pull of a show like The Christmas Spectacular. I made it a point to get to know everyone helping me out, and my small gesture of kindness came back tenfold. I received an abundance of back stage love and support, which sustained me throughout a grueling run of shows.

12. Play to yourStrengths

The Rockettes are known for dancing in perfect unison, but if you look at the dancers individually, you might notice subtle differences among them. Each Rockette comes to the line with different styles of training, natural ability, and physical stature, but still blend into an illusion of unison. This observation continually reminds me to play to my strengths, and put my personal spin on anything I do: I can be unique and fit in when necessary.

13. Choose Happiness

I assumed I was destined to carve out a career as a performer, but realized quickly I wasn't happy dancing professionally. After my first season at Radio City, I boxed up my dance shoes and transitioned into a 9-5 job while I went back to school. No, it was not easy leaving the glamour of performing behind, but that hard decision put me on the path to where I am now. I am authentically happy and following my calling as a mom, coach, and writer on resilience.

14.Pay it Forward

Long after I retired, I was asked to help out a young girl in my town who dreamed of becoming a Rockette. I jumped at the opportunity, knowing I had an important debt to pay forward. She is now in her 6th season as a Rockette, and we have become lifelong friends! I cannot stress enough how rewarding the giving part of the process has been.

Needless to say, sharing my Rockette experience with our Girl Scout Troop yesterday was a blast. Along with my "Rockette Life Lessons," I taught them a piece of "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," which created an abundance of laughter and inspired the joy that lingers in my heart.

Perhaps then, the most important lesson I learned from my eye-high kicking experience is to give whenever you can. At the very least, this wisdom allows me the perfect opportunity to point to our upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and send my gratitude your way.

Thanks for reading, following me, and sharing my words. Your readership is among the many blessings I am counting this year.