In celebration of AAPI Month, Radio City Rockette Jackie Aitken shares her inspiring journey from performing at home in Brisbane to dancing on the Great Stage at Radio City Music Hall.
Performing has always been a part of my life, from performing for family and friends, to packed houses on the greatest stage in the world – Radio City Music Hall. I was raised in Brisbane, Australia, by my Filipino mother and Australian father. In our house, the karaoke machine was always plugged in ready for a performance, or a dancing show was playing on the television, or even better, my mom was cooking unlimited lumpia (Filipino spring rolls) for family and friends. My second home was Conroy Dance Center, where I grew up dancing from the time I was five years old until I left for my first professional job at 18. I trained in jazz, tap, and ballet, heavily participating in all group or solo competitions, exams, and concerts. I was dedicated to dance at a young age – it was my life – and I made sure to never miss a dance class as I wanted to learn it all. I was a determined child, determined to make it dancing internationally one day, a very big dream for a little Australian Filipino girl. The Filipino culture is vibrant and full of entertainment, which shaped me tremendously as a dancer. As a minority in the dance industry, I feel unique and proud to be Filipino.
On a trip to New York City with my dance school I discovered The Rockettes. While touring America performing and training with the Starz Production troupe, we participated in a one-day Rockettes Experience which was, for me, a life-changing experience. It included a dance class followed by a mock audition and tour of Radio City Music Hall, including the dressing rooms which many years later, became my home away from home. I remember walking away from Radio City Music Hall and my dance teacher saying, “maybe one day you could be a Rockette.” I have to thank my lifelong dance teachers, Shelle Conroy, Nikki Conroy, Jan Conroy, and Marise McGuirk for believing in me, and for the many opportunities presented to me as a child because without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I was an adult working professionally as a dancer when I started to become more curious about the Rockettes. I started researching how to become a Radio City Rockette, and discovered a program that the Rockettes ran at the time called the Rockettes Summer Intensive (RSI). I was living in Paris at the time and knew that if I wanted to audition for the Rockettes, I had to come prepared, and this would be the perfect training to set me up for success in the audition room. Attending RSI was incredible, I learned so much about the choreography and style from Rockettes themselves. The audition itself was an experience, my first big New York City audition, and I was secretly freaking out. I had no expectations and went there truly for the experience and to give it my best, thinking in the back of my head, you can come back even more prepared next year. Well, there was no need to return to audition the following year because that year, in 2014, I became a Radio City Rockette. I remember getting the email offering me a position as a Rockette in between shows that I was performing in and I burst out crying but had to pull myself together to run back on stage – what a memory!
My first season as a Rockette was with the touring company performing at the iconic Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. My first year is still a blur, much like my memory from the audition process. I still couldn’t believe I was dancing for such an iconic and legendary group. The rehearsal process is long – six hours a day, six days a week. I recently completed my ninth season as a Rockette, which was filled with many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. We got to perform with Mariah Carey at Madison Square Garden for her Christmas special performing eye high kicks to “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Along with the more than 100 shows we each get to perform at Radio City every season, we also get incredible opportunities performing as part of iconic events such as Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and more.
It’s an absolute honor to represent AAPI in America and in the Rockettes line. Being a Radio City Rockette is hard work but so fulfilling and I hope to inspire the next generation of Asian dancers all over the world. The bond you create with the women of the line and cast is lifelong. Of all the amazing opportunities I’ve had as a Rockette, nothing will ever top having my Mum in the audience, picking her up at the side of the stage post show and finding her hysterically crying. Everything she sacrificed for me as a child, including moving from the Philippines, was worth it once she saw me perform with the strongest women I know on the greatest stage in the world. Thank you to the Rockettes company for pushing me to become a better dancer daily, and this family helped me create. I can’t wait to see what the new season holds, and the incredible new memories to be made because even nine years in, every year keeps getting better and better!