From the moment she first saw the Rockettes perform in Radio City Music Hall during a family trip to New York City, Ericka Whitaker (Educ ’06) was hooked. Then six years old, Whitaker had begun dance lessons a year earlier and was dazzled by the show.
The years passed and Whitaker continued to dance, training extensively in ballet, tap and jazz. As a first-year student, the Newport News, Va., native was a member of Virginia’s cheerleading team and participated in the University Dance Club. Visiting New York City for tap classes the following summer, Whitaker was encouraged to audition for the Rockettes and the old childhood dream took on new life.
Among hundreds of hopefuls, Whitaker was one of the few chosen to join the Rockettes. After speaking with her dean, she was given clearance to take off the fall semesters of 2002 and 2003 to dance with the Rockettes in Detroit and Phoenix. She would complete her studies in sports medicine, just on a slightly delayed timetable.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up,” Whitaker says.
After graduating, she made her debut in New York’s Radio City Music Hall in 2006. “It’s amazing to be able to dance there,” she says. “There’s so much history and you can feel it when you’re in the building.”
Despite the history and the glamour, Whitaker and her fellow dancers also feel the wear and tear of a grueling schedule that has them performing in as many as five shows a day, six days a week in the peak season surrounding the holidays.
Not surprisingly, injuries are common. For Whitaker, that’s not all bad.
She plans to capitalize on her background in sports medicine and dance, ultimately working as a trainer for dance-related injuries. “It’s a way for me to combine both of my loves,” she says.
But for now, Whittaker is enjoying the ride—and remembering the wide-eyed days of her own childhood.
“The Rockettes are legendary and to be a part of such a group is amazing in itself,” she says. “I remember how I looked up to the Rockettes when I was younger and it’s so neat for me now that I am one. When I meet little girls, I can look back and see that I used to be where they are.”