Kick off the holidays with the Rockettes

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There were a few holiday rules at my childhood home. No peeking at presents (bless my dear parents). No cookies before dinner, especially not frosted ones. And the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade MUST be on during the ritualistic preparation of the turkey.

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Side note: My father, the dearest, most naturally comical man on earth, always rose ridiculously early on Thanksgiving morning with a shout, saying, “Come on, Karen! Put on your clean socks! We’re going to stuff the turkey!” I was Mommy’s little helper and Daddy’s partner-in-crime on these seasonal culinary escapades, mostly because I was the only kid up at that hour–and I was Daddy’s little girl.

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And as we dressed and stuffed the turkey, we would dash into the living room to catch the parade. My granddaddy, the town crier, would alert us when a “good one” was on and we’re vibrate back out to the living room. Dad would puff up with pride whenever a Maryland high school or college band hove into view. We stayed put, Dad tapping in time to the march tune, until the camera lost interest in them, then raced back to the kitchen to attend to the latest pending disaster.

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Frankly, parade’s current iteration (a suspiciously similar string of show tunes performed by minor celebrities, boy band rejects, and no-name, highly illuminated show folk) leaves me cold. I miss the proud small town marching bands led by prancing baton-twirlers, glittering cowboys on blinged-out horses, predictable balloon statistics offered by cozily over-coated Loren Greene and glamorous, funny Betty White.


However, one timeless element of the parade never fails to mesmerize me—the Rockettes. Somewhere between stuffing the turkey and stuffing yourself this holiday, you’ll probably encounter this troupe of impressively disciplined, fabulously costumed young women kicking their legs skyward like it’s their job. It is.

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Smiles (and hair) firmly in place, these sparkling gals trot past the Macy’s façade and do a lively, high-stepping routine that would leave most of us dead. Literally.

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How do they do it? Well, they’ve got rules that work. And that’s my holiday gift to you to kick off the season, the Rockette Rules that will help any woman succeed…especially in a corporate culture.

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Rockette Rule #1: Visualize your dream. Rockettes new and old often say that their first glimpse of Rockettes in the Macy’s parade created a burning desire to be one of them.

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Remember your first love and keep that flame burning. It will keep you focused during the hard times. Which leads us to…

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Rockette Rule #2: Get used to the grind. The charming memoir “A Rockette Remembers” by Corliss Fyfe Whitney recounts the daily life of the early Rockettes in informative and terrifying detail. Wake up at 7 (or earlier), shower, do hair and makeup (Rockettes still do their own hair and makeup, BTW).

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Grab a bite to eat, endure grueling rehearsals for hours and hours, do daytime shows, learn new routines between said shows, grab lunch, do more shows. Collapse. “We worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, and were together almost every waking hour.”

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Rockette Rule #3: The original Linked-in. Rockettes cannot do it alone. Their impressive performance is a tribute to teamwork on every level.

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They refer to each other as sisters and know that if one of them falters, they’ll all go down. In order to gain a place of honor on that famous stage, there’s no room for ego or individualism.

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So, lose the attitude and embrace a true spirit of corporation—Borg-like, you must function within the group to achieve your potential. It’s interesting to note that Millennials are much more comfortable with this idea, having much more experience with “groupthink” and crowd-sourced wisdom.

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By the way, it’s an optical illusion that the Rockettes are holding onto each other—their fingers might be touching the costume of their neighboring dancer, but they aren’t physically touching. Which should be a great metaphor for keeping in touch but not being clingy or totally reliant on someone else to keep your balance!

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Rockette Rule #4: Big sister knows best. Corliss remembered: “…like a little sister, I began to study my big sisters in order to learn how I was supposed to act.”

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If you do your job with a big chip on your shoulder and refuse to ask your peers for any help or advice, you risk being pegged as a heartless climber. Not a good label if you ever need their help (and you will). “As a newbie,” she says, “I was self-conscious about whether I was behaving like I was supposed to behave.”

1946, Rockette Rehearsal

Rockette Rule #5: Challenge yourself. Corliss reports that every Rockette had a routine that terrified her. Her response: Get help and log plenty of practice time until your skills are up to speed.

rock earlyThe Rockette trainers wisely sandwiched rookies between two “rocks,” seasoned veterans who could encourage—and admonish—you when you faltered. These stabilizing forces are today called mentors and they’re still out there. Look around. Someone is waiting to help you.

rock rehearse 2Search out an older women willing to guide, nurture and herd you out of trouble. And if you’re that older woman, find a young one to mentor!

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Rockette Rule #6: Stay limber: Corliss stresses how crucial staying flexible was to a Rockettes existence. By keeping their muscles loose and ready to dance, they avoided injury.

1946, Rockette Rehearsal

The simile is obvious. “Limbering up wasn’t just important, it was imperative to one’s survival!” I hated the book “Who Moved My Cheese” but the concept of not becoming attached to one reality is a valuable one for navigating corporate life.

rock limberRockette Rule #7: Lock-step: Corliss states repeatedly that Rockettes had squash any natural tendencies to stand out…to be individuals.

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Now, them’s fighting words to our “Live Free or Die” Yankee Doodle souls, but in a corporate world, individualism is frowned on.

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“We all wore the same thing, we all rehearsed exactly the same steps, kicked exactly the same height. On stage we were stripped of our individuality, every single movement was alike.”

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“We were each a small part of a larger whole and that became ingrained in our minds as our purpose.” If you couldn’t accept that, Corliss acknowledged, you simply weren’t Rockette material. Kicks had to be just so high and no higher (even if you could scrape the ceiling).

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Perfect synchronicity was the goal. Uniformity– a dirty word to many of us—was the ideal state. I *hate* to tell you this, but that’s still pretty much the status quo in today’s corporate world. It’s the rare individual who is allowed to be an individual!

rock early earlyRockette Rule #8: Just routine, ma’am: Reinforcement of the rules of diet, exercise, and practice, practice, practice was pretty straightforward. Do it right or get out. Self-discipline was–and is–the key here.

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There’s always another hopeful waiting in the wings. Having a routine, being “in the line,” states Corliss “…was a key psychological factor in helping (her) feel like a Rockette”. Rituals solidify relationships, build skills, and reinforce a sense of belonging.

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Be your own taskmaster, set some expectations and reinforce them with helpful routines. Corliss says, “I kept my eyes on that mirror in the hopes of keeping their (her trainers) eyes off me!”

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Rockette Rule #9: Smile. Right before any Rockette hits the stage, whether it’s Radio City Music Hall or 34th Street in front of Macy’s, she whispers one word to herself: Smile.

The Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

A cheerful grin, a shared laugh, a friendly look can make the difference between a rough work day and a kinder, gentler one for you and your co-workers.

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Rockette Rule 10: Appreciate your heritage: To this day, almost every Rockette will declare that “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” routine is at once the hardest and the best. It’s the defining dance; the one that signals to the dancer that she has achieved true Rockette status.

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On their FB page, you can watch cute videos of some of today’s Rockettes share with glowing eyes their heartfelt joy at being entrusted with this iconic routine, danced by the Rockettes since their very first days.

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The challenging number was created by the Rockettes’ founder, Russell Markert and is still performed in costumes designed by Vincente Minnelli in 1933!

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It’s a testament to positive co-dependence. Each girl falls slowly and with great control into the trustworthy, well-trained, disciplined, waiting arms of the Rockette behind her. All 35 girls carefully surrendering to the dependable, tested strength of her sister.

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Now, if that doesn’t inspire you to find a fellow female worker and build some bonds, I don’t know what will! Find someone who’s got your back!

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And if you want to know more about the life of a Rockette, pick up Corliss’s book! It’s a fun read from the unofficial historian of the troupe. Meanwhile, why not practice a few of the Rockette Rules in the coming year and see if you can triumph in the corporate environment by embracing sisterhood!

rock diverseHappy Thanksgiving, dear readers! See you on 34th Street!

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