Grad Student Gets Her Kicks as a Radio City Rockette

Posted: December 20, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: December 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

DeMoya Watson. Photo courtesy of DeMoya Watson

It was November 2004, and the holiday season in Detroit was in full swing. As DeMoya Watson took the stage for the first time as a Radio City Rockette, the audience erupted in thunderous applause. Lining up in formation with the other dancers, Watson had an epiphany.

“I can recall doing strut kicks in the kick line, having to look from side to side at the hat of the girl next to me, and all I could see straight down the line were beautiful long legs,” says Watson, a graduate student in Mason’s arts management program.

“At a point in the performance, the music tempo changed and we began to approach the grand finish with our famous ‘eye-high’ kicks. It was at that moment it hit me that I was a Radio City Rockette and that I was a part of something that has been an American tradition for decades.”

Among New York City’s most celebrated attractions, the Radio City Rockettes have also performed all over North America for more than 75 years.  Each year, thousands of women audition for the chance to become part of the legendary line, but only the best are chosen — about 180 each year — to carry on the Rockettes’ legacy.

Seven Seasons as a Rockette

Watson, a native of Daytona Beach, Fla., is now in her seventh season as a Rockette. She is performing in this season’s Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular in Fort Myers, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Austin, Texas. By the time the season is over, Watson will have performed in 97 shows.

Watson’s passion for dance began at an early age when she performed as a toddler in a community show choreographed by her aunt. She went on to become captain of her high school dance team and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance from Florida State University in 2001.

After graduating from college, Watson returned to her hometown and spent several months as a dance instructor. At the same time, she founded her own nonprofit organization called Motivational Outreach for Youth and Adults Inc. (MOYA), which promotes mental and physical health and an awareness of the arts. But she soon realized that her passion was for performing on the stage.

In 2002, Watson toured with pop singer Aaron Carter, followed by a job performing for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and spending eight months at sea. In between these gigs, Watson auditioned in New York City for the Rockettes. In spring 2004, she received a callback and subsequently landed the job.

Given the choice to be part of the national tour or to perform solely in New York City, Watson chose the touring group that travels to cities across the country and performs in more intimate settings. Watson says she was drawn to the touring group because she enjoys traveling, and since all expenses are paid, it was the better choice financially.

Keeping up with the rigorous and demanding Rockette schedule isn’t easy, she says.

“Everything about being a Rockette is rigorous. We begin rehearsals in October and are performing right up until the New Year,” says Watson. “With about eight numbers in each show and six hours of rehearsals each day, you have to be physically fit to keep up.”

Each show has approximately 200 kicks, she points out.

“One thing I’ve learned is that a nice, long ice bath at the end of the day really does a body good. It helps to repair your body.”

Despite all of the hard work and long hours, Watson loves every minute of it.

“I don’t think anyone can be a Rockette if they don’t love it. The best thing about it is the camaraderie and friendships that come with it. These girls have become my second family.”

Throughout the years, Watson and the rest of the Rockettes have made special appearances on popular television shows such as “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Country Music Television’s Top 20 Countdown.”

Dancing and Studying

Soon after her fourth season as a Rockette, Watson made the move to Alexandria, Va., and began pursuing a degree at Mason. She chose Mason after conducting extensive research on various programs and deciding the arts management program was the best fit for her. Watson’s professors have been very supportive of her performance career, she says.

“When DeMoya came to Mason, she was pursing a career that she loves and for which she is highly qualified. However, she recognized that this career has a limited life,” says Richard Kamenitzer, director of the arts management program.

“She chose to continue her education and pursue her passion for dance. As a lively and spirited person both inside and outside of the classroom, I have no doubt that she will carry this energy with her in her future as an arts manager.”

After she graduates, Watson hopes to continue working in the dance field as an arts manager or educator. Watson says she wants to expose young people to the arts at an early age and help them get the care they need to have prosperous careers.

Watson is also busy performing with other organizations in the Washington, D.C., area. She recently starred in “Sophisticated Ladies” at Arena Stage and has performed with Washington Reflections Dance Company, a contemporary ballet and modern dance ensemble.

Although Watson can’t say for sure how many more years she’ll continue auditioning for the Rockettes (one must audition every year to be a Rockette), she can say that the experience is like none other.

“There is no greater feeling than walking on stage and automatically getting a standing ovation because people all over the world know the Rockettes and what we stand for,” says Watson. “I hope that one day I’ll be able to tell my kids and grandkids that I was part of this legendary organization and lived the American dream.”

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu