Hundreds of young women from around the world are kicking their dance routines into high gear in New York this week in hopes of joining perhaps the most famous dance troupe there is — the Rockettes.
The aspiring dancers lined up Tuesday morning on a Manhattan street — getting just 30 seconds each to audition for a chance to be in the 2013 Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Amid noisy rush-hour traffic, their hair was neatly pulled back. Their makeup was perfect, some batting fake eyelashes. And they all wore high-heeled dance shoes.
"I've always wanted to do this," said Chelsey Knapper, 22, of Detroit, who didn't survive last year's auditions.
For this "cattle call" — as the free-for-all lineup is called — Knapper and the others were led upstairs into a rehearsal studio to perform a dance routine before a panel of judges. The quick, precise routine includes a double pirouette and a leg extension.
Those who survive through the end of the week — a good dozen or so — will still have to wait months to find out if they'll actually be invited to join the holiday show that runs from Nov. 8 to Dec. 30.
Madison Square Garden Entertainment, which produces the show, declined to discuss earnings. But Rockettes reportedly earn about $1,500 a week.
They pay their own expenses to get to New York because, Knapper said, "I'd love to be on the line, it's my dream."
Groups of dancers waited their turn at either side of the studio.
Some wiped beads of nervous sweat off their foreheads, fanning themselves. Others leaned down for sips of bottled water as ceiling fans whirred to keep the space cool.
On her third try to become a Rockette, "I just got cut," said Liz Daniels, 27, of San Diego, Calif.
"You get one shot," she added. "But it's not disappointing; there's all kinds of choreography, and that's how it goes."
To even audition, prospective Rockettes must be between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-10 in stocking feet, and proficient in ballet, tap, and jazz.
Directing the whole Christmas spectacular is choreographer Linda Haberman.
"I either keep you or cut you," she said.
Whoever survives the cutthroat process will join a troupe of about 80 Rockettes who are "a part of history, an iconic part of New York City," Haberman said.
Another 40 or so Rockettes go on the road.
Prospective Rockette Elizabeth Moran is in her 30s — "that's older for a Rockette," she said with a wry smile, explaining her reluctance to give her exact age.
"I've loved the Rockettes ever since I was younger," said Moran, who lives in New York City and works in finance for a Dutch bank.
Knapper, who was taking her second shot at a spot on stage, noted only a select few make the cut.
"People spend years trying out," she said. Her backup plan is medical school.
Monica Woods, 21, didn't last the day, "but I'll be back, for sure."
"You learn not to take it personally," said Woods, who is graduating from Fordham University this year.
She comes from Mascoutah, an Illinois community with one traffic light and a population of about 7,000.
Signed with a talent agency for musical theater work, she'll keep auditioning while working at a coffee shop.
"Everyone is kind of in the same boat — nervous but trying not to act like you're nervous," she said. "You just put on a smile.
"I love it, though."