‘Spectacular’ Students and Alumnae are Radio City Rockettes!
Four Dyson students and alumnae, Emily King ’19, Maile Makaafi ’19, Elizabeth DuPont ’18, and Kathleen Laituri ’18, BFA in Commercial Dance, took time out of their busy schedules to talk about their path to Rockette stardom.
What was your journey to becoming a Radio City Rockette like?
Emily: My journey to becoming a Rockette began when I was about fourteen years old. That was my first time seeing the Christmas Spectacular, and I knew when I saw it that I would be a Rockette one day! Starting at about eight years old at my dance studio in Michigan, I trained in tap, jazz and ballet and continued doing so when I went to college. I always knew I wanted to have a career in dance and Radio City was my ultimate dream. In working towards a goal, you will encounter challenges and obstacles, but that makes achieving the goal so much more rewarding! And now, I am performing on stage at Radio City in the Christmas Spectacular!
Maile: I saw the Rockettes perform for the first time when I was thirteen years old when the Christmas Spectacular tour stopped in Arizona. The first time I saw those famous eye-high kicks, I knew I had to become a part of the magic! Fast forward eight years later, and I’m living my dream onstage at Radio City Music Hall, dancing and kicking with the strongest women I’ve ever known. It’s a truly magical experience.
Elizabeth: My journey to becoming a Rockette was eye opening, and blessed with so many opportunities. My first Rockette-inspired piece was in my freshman year of college and it was my first time dancing in a LaDuca heel. While working on the precision dance style, I realized that I really enjoyed it and wanted to work more on it. While auditioning for the Rockettes Summer Intensive, I was asked to be an assistant, and in this role, had to be ready for anything. It was so cool because I was able to experience what it was like to be a swing and actually jump into some of the dancers’ places on the spot without much notice. After auditioning for the Summer Intensive, becoming an assistant on it for a summer, and auditioning three times for the actual Christmas Spectacular, I received the call that changed my life.
Kathleen: Some women have dreamt of becoming a Radio City Rockette since they were born, but my aspirations came a bit later. I have always loved and admired the Rockettes, but never thought I was capable of dancing like them! Things changed when I began studying dance at Pace University in 2014. There, I was introduced to the Rockette’s precision style and absolutely fell in love with it. I was also introduced to opportunities such as the Rockettes Summer Intensive. It was after my first amazing summer at the intensive's Invitational Week that being a Rockette truly became my dream. I did the intensive for two summers and after my second year, I finally worked up the courage to audition! That year, I was lucky enough to be hired and it was absolutely the best day of my professional dance life so far.
What has your experience with the Commercial Dance program been like? How did the faculty inspire or support you?
Emily: My experiences with the program and faculty have been truly amazing. The entire faculty of the Pace School of Performing Arts has played a big role in my success. In achieving my dream of becoming a Radio City Rockette, I must point out professors Lauren Gaul, Holly Evans and Tara Memi, all former Rockettes, who helped me develop the skills and techniques needed for the job. Rhonda Miller, Commercial Dance program director, has also helped make it all possible, building my school schedule in a way that allowed me to remain a full-time student while also dancing in the Christmas Spectacular this season. I am eternally grateful to the entire faculty at Pace!
Maile: I have loved every minute of my experience in Pace’s Commercial Dance program. I have never before been surrounded by so many kind, talented people. Professors Lauren Gaul, Holly Evans and Tara Memi helped immensely in my journey to becoming a Rockette, and I can’t thank them enough.
Elizabeth: Each faculty member had a different influence on my learning. My ballet professors helped me excel and enhance my technique in such a difficult class, while my jazz and contemporary teachers helped me understand my body’s way of movement better. I also learned the precision technique that is used with the Rockettes in my jazz class, which definitely helped!
Kathleen: I had the most incredible four years at Pace University. I feel I am ready to tackle the professional dance world based on the tools and skills that Pace helped me to fine tune. For example, being a Radio City Rockette was something that I never imagined I could do. However, Professor Lauren Gaul, a former Rockette, really helped me discover my capabilities. Through her jazz class, I really found a love for precision dance technique and my confidence grew every day. In addition to being my mentor, Lauren is also a very important role model to me. I admire her drive and work ethic, and I have learned so much from her. Currently as a Rockette, I perform the work with her training in mind and I try to make her proud every day.
What would you like to accomplish through your dance? Why is dance important?
Emily: Through dance, I hope to accomplish many different things. I would just like to spread the confidence, love and beauty that I have found through dance. Growing up dancing, I was given the opportunity to perform in many community shows and charity events, and being able to give back through dance showed me just how bright a light performing can be. Dance is so important, and I hope to spread an appreciation of this art as I go through my career. I also hope to inspire people to pursue their dreams. I was once the young, wide-eyed little girl in the audience, and I hope to demonstrate that anything is possible if you are willing to work for it.
Maile: As a Polynesian performer, I feel a strong responsibility to support other Pacific Islanders in pursuing a career in the arts. Through my career, I hope to inspire other islanders that through hard work, dedication and dreaming big, anything is possible.
Elizabeth: I feel that anything related to the performing arts is incredibly important in today’s world. To me, dance has a way of freeing your mind. It also teaches a sense of respect for not only yourself, but also your instructors and peers. Now as a Rockette in the Christmas Spectacular, my dancing is important because I am spreading joy and Christmas cheer to 6,000 people every single show. It is such a wonderful feeling to know that you have impacted someone’s day with your dancing.
Kathleen: I think the most magical part of performing is the ability to let the audience sit back and be taken away from all of their troubles and worries for a while. Life is difficult and the holidays are not always the happiest for everyone, but they can come to the theater and be transported to a world of joy and togetherness. At Radio City Music Hall, the Christmas Spectacular is all about making time for joy and bringing families together to celebrate the holidays. Knowing that I get to be a part of that by performing as a Radio City Rockette is a dream come true.
What is the most important thing you learned so far? What advice do you have for students?
Emily: The most important thing that I have learned is that just because something is difficult or seems impossible, it does not mean you should give up. My road to becoming a Rockette was not easy, and the rehearsal process for the show was very rigorous. But, I knew it was what I wanted and I kept pushing. Finally achieving my goal after all the hard work was a big lesson that I will remember forever. My advice would be to follow your dreams, because they most definitely can come true!
Maile: The most important thing I’ve learned throughout this process has been a simple switch in mindset. Instead of asking “why me?” I ask “why not me?” Do not limit yourself because hard work and big dreams can take you anywhere, no matter where you come from. Your biggest obstacle may turn into your purpose.
Elizabeth: I have learned a few things while completing college and pursing this life-long goal of mine. Perseverance is major; patience is key; and hard work is inevitable if you want to pursue your dreams. Without those, as well as love and respect, it would have been even harder to achieve my dream.
Kathleen: One of the most important lessons I have learned is to be grateful for the place you are at in life. It is so easy to look at your goals and think, “I am not there yet; therefore I’m not doing well.” However, where you are at in life is simply a step on the staircase to where you are going. I think each of your steps should be laid with gratitude and thankfulness to ensure that you are providing your staircase with a solid and positive foundation that will only lift you higher in the end. Always be grateful for where you are, because where you are is where you’re meant to be.
Although we were unable to interview all seven Dyson students and alumni who are dancing in the 2018 Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in time for this publication, we would like to acknowledge current students Brandon Maxwell ’19 and Julia Spizzichini ’19, and alumnus Kevin Murakami ’18 for their success.
(left to right) Back: Maile Maakafi '19, Kathleen Laituri '18; Front: Elizabeth DuPont '18, Kevin Murakami '18, Julia Spizzichini '19, Brandon Maxwell '19, Emily King '19