Christmas Spectacular 2023: Kicking Back with a Rockette

There’s no place quite as exciting­­—or magical—as Radio City Music Hall during the holiday season. Here, for a few sparkling weeks, doors open to New York’s yuletide show of shows: the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes, presented by QVC.

rockettes christmas spectacular

From its premiere in 1933, the iconic event showcasing the world’s preeminent precision dancers has gone on to enchant over 70 million people from across the globe. Classics dating back to the first Christmas Spectacular—“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity”­—have been joined by “Rag Dolls” and “The 12 Days of Christmas,” numbers featuring 72 tap shoes with digital mic implants. As a state-of-the-art innovator, Radio City breaks new techno ground on a regular basis…like when it whisked projections off the screen and onto the mezzanine, allowing audiences to be swept into the action onstage.

faeries christmas spectacular

Dance of the Frost Fairies. Photo courtesy MSG Entertainment.

Most recently, for the breathtaking “Dance of the Frost Fairies,” the creative masterminds decided to up the immersion ante even higher with computer-controlled “fairy-drones.” In this fantastical number, the Rockettes appear as winged winter sprites, performing alongside butterfly-like drones that dance overhead and flutter throughout the theatre, mesmerizing grownups and little ones alike.

Experiencing the thrill of crowds firsthand for this and every other awesome dance number, is Rockette Elizabeth Peterson, pictured here. A member of the troupe since 2013, the California native said she studied dance growing up, but didn’t necessarily think of making it a career. “I thought I’d be an engineer, but the dance director at my former school said, ‘You’re tall, you have the talent, you should go to New York and try out for the Rockettes.”

Like most of us, Peterson first saw the Rockettes perform on TV in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, so the grueling audition process was an eye-opener and she didn’t click on her first time around. Still, she returned the following year to give it another go. “I was dancing at Disneyland at the time and my dance director happened to be there watching when I got the call,” she says, citing the moment as one of her life’s core memories.

Fortunately, she had the stamina to embrace the rigorous schedule leading up to the Christmas Spectacular: six hours of rehearsal, six days a week, for six weeks. “Because we work as a team and have to be precise, we build each other up. And many of us, myself included, have come to New York City without family nearby, so we know each other well.”

elizabeth peterson rockette

As a veteran of this dream team, Peterson doesn’t hesitate to offer reassurances and tips to new recruits—all of whom have to be skilled in tap, ballet, and jazz. “You need to know that it’s choreographed off stage as well as on,” she explains, adding that of their nine costume changes, the full-throttle 70-second transformation between “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “New York at Christmas”—from pants, jacket, 3-foot soldier hat, gloves, and footwear into dress, coat, gloves, earrings, and muff­—can seem harrowing, even with the aid of dressers (there’s one to every five dancers).

rag dolls rockettes

Which is not to say that what appears as perfection doesn’t have an onstage challenge every so often­—like shoe breakage, something that has left Peterson dancing in a kick line with only one shoe.

Mostly, however, this beautifully oiled machine of a show sails forward without a glitch. Which explains why, after 90 years, it remains the ultimate holiday must-see. “It gets you in the heart,” says the Rockette, who has encountered visitors who tell her they’ve been coming to the Christmas Spectacular for years, starting when they were kids. Now when they share it with their own children, they’re loving it on a whole new level as they pass on the tradition.

parade of the wooden soldiers

According to Peterson, “It’s the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit. Whether you’re in the center of the house or in the top balcony, you will be immersed in the joy of the season. For 90 minutes, you’ll find yourself traveling to the North Pole, to Central Park, and to Bethlehem with real animals.”

So, get ready to be transported...spectacularly!

rockettes bus spectacular


(Some approximate; all staggering!)

  • 34: miles the fairy-drones in the “Dance of the Frost Fairies” fly over the course of the season
  • 84: total number of Rockettes (two 42-member casts with 36 performing on stage at a time)
  • 150: total Christmas Spectacular performers, including The Rockettes, Santa, ice skaters, and additional actors, singers, and dancers
  • 200: Rockettes kicks per performance
  • 500: pairs of shoes worn each show
  • 1,000: costumes worn in the show
  • 6,200: hours required to create the 2023 production’s digital content
  • 30,000: red “cheek” dots that the Rockettes go through every season for “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “Rag Dolls”
  • 60,000: pounds of counterweight supporting the hanging scenery and lighting equipment

The Rockettes

Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes is playing at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Ave., through January 4th, 2024.  For reservations visit
or call 866-858-0007.

About the Author

City Guide Theatre Editor Griffin Miller moved to New York to pursue an acting/writing career in the 1980s after graduating magna cum laude from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Since then, she has written for The New York Times, For the Bride, Hotels, and a number of other publications, mostly in the areas of travel and performance arts. An active member of The New York Travel Writers Association, she is also a playwright and award-winning collage artist. In addition, she sits on the board of The Lewis Carroll Society of North America. Griffin is married to Richard Sandomir, a reporter for The New York Times.

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