The Radio City Rockettes started dancing their hearts out over 90 years ago. Founded in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri, they moved their now-famous, high-kicking act to New York City in 1932 where they remain today. Many young dancers aspire to be Rockettes, but it's not an easy gig to get, and once you're in, it's physically demanding and only pays during a few months of the year.
Rockettes' Job Description
During Christmas, Rockettes perform up to four shows daily and each show's choreography requires 300 kicks. Rockettes are only hired for a portion of the year. Typically, a contract will begin in late September and end in early January. As union workers, they receive their contracts from the American Guild of Variety Artists. Each dancer also receives a benefits package.
Rockettes earn between $1,400 and $1,500 per week during the rehearsal and performance season.
Education and Other Requirements
There are no formal education requirements for becoming a Rockette, but you must be 18 to audition and proficient in ballet, tap and jazz. There's no age limit, but you must meet the requirements of the job which include kicking 1,200 times daily during the Christmas performance season.
Dancers who are interested in becoming Rockettes can attend their summer Intensive Dance Program, which isn't required for getting hired as a Rockette, but can be a great leg up, so to speak. This program is held during the Rockette's offseason, and instructors train dancers in the particular Rockette style six hours each day for one week. After dance training each day, optional seminars are offered on doing your own professional makeup, injury prevention, and health and wellness. This intensive program has produced 60 Rockettes during the past 16 years.
To audition, you also need to meet the strict height requirements. All Rockettes are between 5-feet-6-inches and 5-feet-10 ½-inches tall in stocking feet. If you've ever seen the Rockettes perform, they create the illusion of all being the same height. However, that illusion is maintained by having the tallest dancers in the center, with dancers decreasing in height down to the shortest dancers on each end.
Salaries for Dancers and Choreographers
So, how much do Rockettes earn? Although Rockettes only perform seasonally, they earn a decent paycheck during their weeks of employment, between $1,400 and $1,500 each week, according to Go Banking Rates. If they work only as Rockettes that means an annual salary between $36,400 and $39,000 per year, not quite enough to live well in New York City. However, they do receive their benefits year-round.
Many dancers do other jobs during the off-season, such as teaching dance classes, choreographing dances or joining smaller shows. Choreographers earned median wages of $23.28/hour in 2017. Dance teachers earned median salaries of $18.37/hour. A median salary is the midpoint in a list of salaries for an occupation, where half earned more and half earned less.
About the Industry
How does the Rockettes' salary compare with that of the average dancer? Well, first of all, many dancers have trouble finding employment. As with any artistic field, competition is tough and jobs are scarce.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the hourly wage of dancers in May 2017 between $8.74 and $30.95. The highest earners have jobs in the educational services industry. Dancers in the performing arts earned $16.96 hourly that year. The lowest-paid dancers worked in "drinking places," according to the BLS.
Years of Experience
To become a dancer, you usually need to start young. In the case of ballet, children begin classes between ages 5-to-8 for girls and a few years later for boys. As they enter their teens, training becomes more serious, and most ballet dancers begin their professional careers by the time they are 18. There are exceptions; Some dancers start later and still make a career of the art.
Job Growth Trend
Between 2016 and 2026, employment growth for dancers is estimated at 5 percent, which is similar to most occupations. It is difficult to secure a position as a dancer in a large company due to fierce competition. However, dancers may find positions in smaller companies. Large cities, such as New York and Las Vegas, usually provide more opportunities for dancers. All Rockettes must audition every year, so there's always an opportunity to join the troupe.