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Christmas in NEW YORK CITY!

For 6 years of my life I celebrated Christmas from mid October to the first week of January. It seems odd to me now that people complain when I put my Christmas tree up before Thanksgiving, but to me Christmas is not just a holiday it was my way of life, my job. That may sound cliché or even corny to some, but it is the truth. There is nothing more beautiful than Christmas in New York City and nothing more Spectacular than witnessing the Christmas spirit that exudes from the stage of Radio City Music Hall.

At the age of 19, I got hired to dance with the Radio City Rockettes on tour. You can imagine my excitement at being hired for a professional job at such a young age. Instead of heading off to college, I boarded a plane for Indiana where I would get my first taste of what this job entailed. You guys, this was the hardest gig I have EVER been a part of, I was the youngest in the cast and very new to the process which others had already perfected. Not only did you have to pick up choreography at lightening speed, the stage was a grid of lines and numbers and each step had a specific location on the grid. I made the mistake of not writing down my lines/numbers the first day…I was so scared and had no clue what I was doing. The director screamed at me the second day, she called me “girlie”, and kept yelling “get it together girlie”…I was completely mortified. I am what you would call an extreme perfectionist, but instead of letting this experience break me down (which is definitely what I wanted to do) I worked harder. By the end of the first week, I had proved that I belonged there, I was even offered extra acting roles, and the director began calling by my name. I learned a lot that year way back in 2002, things that have shaped my dancing, my work ethic, the way I plan my classes and the lessons I strive to teach my students.

I toured for two years until I had the courage to audition for the big show in New York. I was ready to move to the big apple, I was 21 and had saved my money literally all my life (you can ask my mom!), but I wanted to move with employment. The line to get into the audition was literally wrapped around Radio City Music Hall and down 5th avenue. I was beyond nervous. Out of that cattle call where there were at least 500 girls, I was one of two people they hired on for the show that Christmas. I had made it.

There is literally nothing more awe inspiring than being on that gigantic stage, seeing the sea of people in the house, staring up at the thousands of people in the three balconies. I spent 4 years performing on that stage, 16 shows a week, around 120 shows per season. Due to injury, I retired from the show in 2008. It was a great run, I had done many workshops for new numbers, I was in the commercials that aired every Christmas advertising the show, I was a part of the first year they had the big LED screen as the back drop and shot green screen video for that, I also will forever be immortalized on the Radio City Christmas Spectacular DVD which was shot on the 75th anniversary. I went back the following year to watch the show from the audience and on that trip the love of my life proposed to me in front of the big Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Plaza. Christmas in the city is so magical.

I have talked with Emily about wanting to share this experience with her and our students. We are hoping to, in the near future, plan a trip to New York City. To see the shows, to take classes from Broadway choreographers, and to share in the joy and excitement this city has to offer. Know that I will push hard for this to happen, I haven’t been back to the city for 10 years! I can’t wait to share this with your kiddos and hopefully inspire them to one-day dance on the great stage too!

Radio City Music Hall 75th Christmas Spectacular

Cristen Benson

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