The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

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Ailey Student Seals Second Season as A New Yory City Rockette

Natalie Butt, FCLC ‘24, reflects on her experience with Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular and her approaching senior graduation
Once+dismissed+as+a+%E2%80%9Cfar-fetched+dream%2C%E2%80%9D+Natalie+Butt+says+she+hopes+her+tenure+as+a+Rockette+brings+joy+to+New+Yorker%E2%80%99s+holiday+traditions.
COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Once dismissed as a “far-fetched dream,” Natalie Butt says she hopes her tenure as a Rockette brings joy to New Yorker’s holiday traditions.

Natalie Butt’s, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) 24, winter job is a 90-year-old tradition, one in which she welcomes the holiday magic and the flock of New York City tourists visiting the Christmas scene through the art of dancing in back-to-back shows at Radio City Music Hall as a Rockette.

Butt has had a chance to live her dream starring in the Christmas Spectacular for the second holiday season in a row, with the 2023-24 season concluding in early January 2024. Following her time as a Rockette, she plans to complete her undergraduate studies and graduate this May at the Ailey/Fordham BFA program.

The Christmas Spectacular opened in 1933 and has become a staple holiday-must for both New York City tourists and residents from late November to early January. The 90-minute show includes the Rockettes, skaters, musicians, singers and even Santa Claus himself. Featuring 40 Rockettes per show, their high kicks, pointed toes, precise movements, quick costume changes and intricate choreography are what draw crowds to Radio City. 

Full-Time Student, Full-Time Dancer

Butt chose to pursue her education in dance at The Ailey School (Ailey) since her enrollment at Fordham in fall 2020 — this came during a time when students nationwide were receiving a synchronous education remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With her drive and dedication to dance, she overlooked the challenges of balancing online classes and in-person rehearsals to expand her dancing abilities. 

The graduating senior has made strides in her dance career at Ailey, working with choreographers such as Shannon Lewis, Dylan Pearce and Candi Boyd on various dance projects. 

Butt expressed gratitude toward Ailey for giving her the flexibility in transferring her rehearsals as a Rockette to school credits. Due to her responsibilities as a full-time student at the Ailey/Fordham BFA program and as a Rockette, striking a balance was crucial. 

“The Ailey School has been very helpful in a way where that I am not having to come in and have my dance classes on top of my Rockette rehearsals, as Rockette rehearsals can be intense,” she said. “Rehearsals last six days a week for six weeks and six hours a day.”

“It kind of just seemed like becoming a Rockette was this far-fetched dream for me.”Natalie Butt, FCLC ‘24

With not attending Ailey dance classes during performance season, Butt felt relieved taking a short break from school to focus on being a part of the Spectacular. She has now returned to her rehearsals and classes at Ailey full-time, and is on track to graduate.

Training as a Rockette and balancing her studies, Butt specifically recalls the support from her photography professor accommodating her schedule from her first season as a Rockette.  She was granted her independent study, where the pair would then meet outside of class hours up to twice a week.

“I would do all of the work for that class after rehearsals or after shows, and with that, I was able to get credit for the fall 2023 semester,” Butt said.

The separation of the types of work has helped Butt ease transitioning from a full-time dancer to a student, in maintaining a balance between work as a Rockette and as a student. While Butt felt she created a balance by “switching gears” on assignments for school, she enjoyed the intersection of  “behind the scenes” work in taking photos as a Rockette for class projects.

From Miami to Manhattan

Born in Michigan and raised in Miami, Butt began dance classes at age four after her parents decided that her young spirit and connection to music was worth the decision to enroll her in dance classes. 

“We need to put this kid in dance classes,” Butt’s parents decided. “And from there, the rest is history,” Butt remembers in reminiscing about her parent’s decision to enroll her in classes.

As a young dancer at TAME Dance Academy in Florida, Butt excelled in her dance classes before attending a performing arts high school, New World School of the Arts. Butt achieved the distinction and merit of being a member of the National Honors Society for Dance Arts. 

Although Butt recalls not having the opportunity to travel to New York City during the holidays to see the Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular, she was mesmerized by their televised performances on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the “Today Show” each year.

“As an athlete, it definitely needs to require a mix of physical and mental self-care.”Natalie Butt, FCLC ‘24

“It kind of just seemed like becoming a Rockette was this far-fetched dream for me because I was not in New York and I did not have access to that type of training,” Butt said.

Butt then began to inch toward this dream when she became a dancer in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program.

Nearing the end of her high school career, Butt knew she wanted to soon dance in the city.

She saw the Ailey/Fordham BFA program at the top of her list upon applying to colleges. 

“Fordham was absolutely my top choice of school,” Butt said. She considers herself fortunate to train at the Ailey School with their dancers and staff, while living in Manhattan.

From balancing schoolwork to dancing for the Radio City Rockettes, Butt shares her experience managing her busy but rewarding schedule. (COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Show Must Go On

Butt is now a part of the Rockette’s morning cast, which means she has reported to Radio City Music Hall for plenty of early mornings where she spent additional time clearing her mind and physically warming up. Either meditating or enjoying the walk to work, she enters with a clear mind as the day begins. Butt was sure to fuel herself with proper nutrition before beginning up to four shows in a day. 

“As an athlete, it definitely needs to require a mix of physical and mental self-care,” Butt said.

“It still feels like a dream every day to have performed at Radio City Music Hall.”Natalie Butt, FCLC ‘24

Butt described her self-care as being able to take rests when needed, as well as taking advantage of the Rockettes’ Athletic Training Department no matter the size of a possible injury. Butt said she made it a point to never leave Radio City without an ice bath, often followed by a warm shower and rolling out her muscles.

Butt continued to describe her self-care as embracing quiet time whether it be watching a Christmas movie before bed to calm herself or to prepare for another day of Rockette duties. 

“Since we’re doing so many shows in a day, it can be very overstimulating and just a lot of excitement and so for me, personally, I always want to make sure I am getting enough rest to wake up the next morning and do it all again,” Butt said.

A Dream and Tradition in One

As a holiday tradition, the Christmas Spectacular includes ever-changing elements that keep audiences of thousands upon thousands on the edge of their seats. Butt is confident these yearly modifications of production engage their audiences to continue fostering “Christmas spirit” after leaving Radio City Music Hall.

“We have our number, Dance of the Frost Fairies, where you experience immersive magic with drones flying around in the audience while the Rockettes are dancing on stage,” Butt said. The drones are a small piece of elements fused with the shows’ familiar yearly tradition.  “This year we have even more drones than ever before.”

Butt believes the combination of tradition with today’s elements, is what allows her to love her job as a Rockette more with the coming holiday seasons.

Performing for thousands of audience members each season, Butt is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of many family’s Christmas traditions in seeing the Rockettes nearing the holidays.

“It’s a tradition combined with excitement in bringing the show to the stage, and everyone loves a holiday tradition, especially the Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” Butt said. “It still feels like a dream every day to have performed at Radio City Music Hall.”

Caroline Sensenig conducted reporting on this story.

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About the Contributor
GABRIELLA GUTIERREZ, Assistant News Editor
Gabriella Gutierrez (she/her), FCLC ’26, is an assistant news editor at The Observer. She is majoring in political science on the pre-law track with an interest in journalism. She enjoys being on the Jersey Shore, losing her voice at Yankees games and blasting ABBA.

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