As kids, they starred with the Rock­ettes. Now they’re back

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK >> Me­gan Levin­son had one wish when she turned 12. She was al­ready star­ring on­stage as Clara in the “Ra­dio City Christ­mas Spec­tac­u­lar” but she wanted more.

“I blew out my can­dles and I said, ‘I hope I grow tall enough to be a Rock­ette,’” she re­called. Wish granted. Levin­son, of North Cald­well, New Jersey, is one of two for­mer Claras who have grad­u­ated to the ranks of the 80 women whose high kicks elec­trify this year’s hol­i­day show in New York. A fam­ily tra­di­tion for many, the show at­tracts an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion visitors dur­ing its eight-week sea­son, ac­cord­ing to Madi­son Square Gar­den.

The other is Kate­lyn Gaffney, of Clark, New Jersey, who also played Clara, one of the show’s young stars, in 2003 in Bran­son, Mis­souri, and Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin, when she was 11. She and Levin­son both joined the New York com­pany as Rock­ettes in 2010.

“I re­mem­ber watch­ing the Rock­ettes when we’d be back­stage not per­form­ing as Clara. I would try to prac­tice all the chore­og­ra­phy. I was like, ‘I’m go­ing to learn all the Rock­ette moves. When I turn 18, I can be a Rock­ette, too!’”

Gaffney and Levin­son have be­come best friends in the Ra­dio City cast. For the past seven sea­sons, they’ve been tasked with as many as five, 90-minute shows a day. Both also have ap­peared in the Rock­ettes’ sum­mer show.

“I think I can speak for both of us, in say­ing that we have both dreamed of be­ing Rock­ettes for so long that, now, com­ing in ev­ery day, it truly is a dream to come here ev­ery sin­gle day and do what we love,” said Gaffney.

The path from be­ing Clara to a Rock­ette is all about tal­ent — and height. The young girl must stand un­der 4-foot-11 and Rock­ettes must be be­tween 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-10½. That means any hope­fuls need a se­ri­ous growth spurt in be­tween.

Levin­son stood just 4-foot-6 when she started play­ing Clara in Chicago in 2001 but had shot up to 5-foot by the end of the year (and also lost eight teeth.) “I just re­mem­ber telling my mom ev­ery day, ‘I want to be a Rock­ette. I need to grow.’”

“I would write, ‘Dear Di­ary, to­day a Rock­ette winked at me in the wings.’ I looked up to the Rock­ettes so much as role mod­els and I was so im­pressed by the team­work as­pect and how hard they worked,” she said. “I looked up to them so much and now I hope that we’re role mod­els like that.”

Gaffney’s path to the ranks of the syn­chro­nized dancers started with her fam­ily’s an­nual tra­di­tion of com­ing into the city to see the show at Ra­dio City, some­thing that al­ways left her “en­thralled.” One day, her dance school did a tour of Ra­dio City.

“I was so ex­cited just to be in the room where Rock­ettes re­hearsed,” she re­called. The young girl soon learned that there were au­di­tions for Clara the next day and, an 11-year-old stand­ing 4-foot4, begged her mom to go. She got the job.

Gaffney, who grew up with only brothers, said she’s found a sis­ter­hood with the Rock­ettes and a connection to a glit­tery past that stretches back to the show’s ori­gin in 1933.

“This is so much more than a job to me. For most of us, we would do this for free. This is my life,” she said.

CARL SCHEFFEL — MSG PHOTO SER­VICES VIA AP

In this photo re­leased by Madi­son Square Gar­den, Ra­dio City Rock­ettes Kate­lyn Gaffney, of Clark, N.J., left, and Me­gan Levin­son, of North Cald­well, N.C., pose on the mez­za­nine level at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall in New York. Gaffney and Levin­son have be­come best friends in the Ra­dio City cast. For the past seven sea­sons, they’ve been tasked with as many as five, 90-minute shows a day. Both also have ap­peared in the Rock­ettes’ sum­mer show.

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