Behind the glitter and the glamour of being a Rockette lies something deeper.
All between 5-6 and 5-10Â½, with the ability to kick their heels to the sky (while descending a double-decker bus, no less), these women seemingly have it all.
Keltie Colleen, a veteran Rockette of five years, was all giggles and cheer on the phone the day before opening night in Hamilton, Ontario. Dancing since the age of three in her hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, the self-proclaimed prairie girl wanted to be a Rockette since she she first laid eyes on one in a poster an aunt had brought her.
“I was 16 years-old, and I knew I had to be a Rockette,” Colleen said,” so I took a bus at 18, packed my of belongings and I began auditioning in New York.”
It took Colleen three years before she booked the part as a Rockette. Since then, she has performed at both Radio City Music Hall in New York City and on the national tour, where she is one of five Canadians amongst over 200 Rockettes performing in North America this season. This year marks the first time the show makes its way to Montreal, performing in both French and English.
Colleen was ecstatic to learn she was performing in Montreal, one of her favourite cities, where she can visit her grandparents. “I have been telling girls in the cast that they will love Montreal.”
Also, she can eat Canadian chocolate bars in Montreal: “I love Mars bars and mint Aeros, they don’t have them where I live,” said Colleen. “So if anyone wants to throw any mint Aeros my way on opening night, that would be great.”
However, on her blog, High Kicks & High Hopes, Colleen did not seem as cheery as she appeared via telephone.
In a recent post she wrote, “I am homeless. I have a suitcase and a P.O. Box and not much else. I do not know what city I will be living in eight weeks from now. I won’t have a job. I don’t have a boyfriend, a husband, or even a showmance. I don’t have anyone to tuck me in at night or make sure I am okay. I don’t have anyone to send me flowers this opening night.”
When asked about the blog post, Colleen said there are downsides to being a Rockette.
“I think that there is really a great sacrifice that goes with being in such a great show and any pro athlete would relate to what I wrote,” she said. “I don’t get to see my family on Christmas this year. But that’s just me, there are Rockettes that are married and that are moms.”
To make sure she doesn’t miss the holiday entirely, Colleen’s family will celebrate Christmas twice, once in December and once in January, when the Rockette’s tour is over. Her family will also see the show in Montreal, where Colleen’s older brother, who could not attend previous shows due to illness, will see her perform for the first time.
“I’m pretty sure that when the curtain opens and my brother watches me perform, that will be the most special moment in my Rockette life,” she said.
Aside from the emotional challenges, being a Rockette poses many physical feats as well.
“We walk around with ice bags on our hips after the show,” said Colleen of the challenging workout each performance entails.
To prepare for the tour, the dancers begin training in September, so that each kick and each dancer is perfectly in line.
“We don’t just rehearse kick lines once or twice. We do it 25 times and its hard work,” she said. “People don’t realize that the Rockettes are athletes, we are just in heels and shiny outfits with a nice red lip.”
Finding the force to lift her legs 273 times a show is a challenge, but Colleen finds motivation by thinking of the Rockette legacy.
“It is really the best show in the world, we meet Rockettes from the 50s and it’s so special,” she said. “I mean it’s that driving force; you are with 18 other girls but you are not just dancing for yourself, you are dancing for that legacy of women.”
This year, Colleen plans to spend Christmas day much like she did last year, with 18 of her closest friends.
“Last year I woke up at Christmas with a fake tree in my hotel room in I don’t know what city,” she said, ” and the girls and I ran around the hotel singing “Feliz Navidad.'”
Colleen, who claims never to have missed a step during a performance, is not sure how much longer she will stay with the Rockettes, but knows she is not through performing with them.
“A lot of women know when they are ready to go,” she said, “but I have many more years of kicking in me.”
The Christmas Spectacular stops in Montreal on Nov. 13 and 14 at the Bell Centre. Keltie Colleen is the right end girl, so make sure to look out for her.