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New Hampshire Rockette shows no signs of slowing down

  • Jessica Davison. Courtesy of MSG Company

  • Jessica Davison (far right) is currently the only New Hampshire member of the Rockettes. Marion Curtis—Courtesy of MSG Company

  • Jessica Davison (front right) performs at the Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony 2017. Davison is currently the only New Hampshire member of the Rockettes. Carl Scheffel / Courtesy of MSG Company



Monitor staff
Sunday, December 24, 2017

It’s not easy being an icon.

Just ask Jessica Davison, Bedford native and lifelong dancer. As a member of the Radio City Rockettes – those high-kicking dancers as integral to the American Christmas tradition as Santa’s reindeer – even when she’s not on stage, the role never really leaves her, even though she’s required to audition for her job every year.

But after five years of being a Rockette, and currently the only New Hampshire representative, Davison isn’t tired of the gig. Not at all.

“I’d like to do this for as long as I can,” she said in a recent interview. “There’s no age limit, you just have to be 18 or older. As long as I keep auditioning and getting hired, I’d love to continue to do this. It’s really amazing that I get to say I do what I love for a living.”

Basic step

Davison joined the Rockettes in 2012. But her dance journey begins at age three, 25 years ago.

Her path is rooted in the New Hampshire dance scene: Her parents Jeff and Ann Davison are directors of the nonprofit Bedford Youth Performing Company, and she trained at Southern New Hampshire Dance Theatre.

But her resume extends far past the Granite State. Davison majored in dance at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, with a focus on ballet. She’s also danced with the Rock School of the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and the Ajkun Ballet Theatre in New York City. She also attended the Regional Dance America’s Craft of Choreography Conference at Pacific Northwest Ballet under full scholarship.

It’s quite a list of accomplishments for a 28-year-old dancer. But ever since she was young, Davison only had eyes for the Radio City Hall stage.

“One year I saw the Rockettes at Radio City and thought the show was really magical – not to sound too cheesy. I decided to audition for it,” Davison said.

But Davison didn’t just sashay onto the scene. To be a Rockette, you have to be a fast learner, skilled in ballet, tap, and jazz styles – and combinations of all three. And, of course, quick with a high kick – exactly 300 eye-high kicks a show.

Beyond style, there’s the physical aspect. Starting in October, Davison said she has six hours of practice, six days a week to prepare for the “busy season,” or performances of the Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular show, which starts in November and doesn’t stop until Jan. 1. There are eight dance numbers per show, up to four shows a day, and 200 shows a season. The company consists of two teams of 36 members and four alternates. 

And then there’s confidence, a quality that’s hard to bottle. “They have to know they can trust you to be part of this group of 80 women, who are all individual, strong and amazing,” Davison said. “They need to know you can come together as a team.”

Davison said she was cut “right away” that first year, but she when her parents greeted her offstage, she was beaming. “I had just danced inside Radio City Music Hall,” she said. “It was the coolest experience.”

Determined to try again, Davison spent that next year taking classes and hitting the gym. The second time around, she made it to the second day, but didn’t receive that coveted call. She knew she needed to work on her strength and confidence, and resolved to try again.

That third year, Davison made the team, and hasn’t made a misstep since. 

Showtime

Being a Rockette isn’t just about Christmas – as a member of the company, Davison has performed in the Grand Ole Opry, the Tony Awards, America’s Got Talent and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

But Christmas is definitely the best part, she said. She got to perform at the 2017 Rockefeller Tree Lighting ceremony, an event that gave her chills – and not just because of the cold.

“For me, the Rockettes are about tradition,” she said. “My family always had Christmas traditions growing up, and now they have a new one, which is going to see the Rockettes in NYC every year.”

Later, she added: “I can’t believe this is my life. Everyone knows who the Rockettes are. To be a part of it is such a humbling experience, it’s really an honor.”

And at this point, the company is more than just a job for Davison – she considers her coworkers her family, New York City her second home. 

“I don’t get to go home (to Bedford)” she said with a laugh. “My family comes to me, and I can’t say how special that is.”

“We’re in the theater together all the time,” she said, speaking of the Rockettes,” that we really become family, best friends and sisters. We’re in each others’ weddings, we hang out all time. We make new traditions with each other.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this story. Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)