Former Rockette enjoys teaching students of all ages
ROTTERDAM JUNCTION It's hard to imagine the lives of Rockettes in their post-performance years.
But when the kicking stops, Janet Murphy of Clifton Park said that all generations of dancers share a common experience: taking a bow on the Radio City Music Hall stage.
"It's the most beautiful stage in the world," Murphy said.
Her time as a member of the famous kick-line took place during the company's 50th anniversary celebration in the early 1980s, and Murphy still remembers her "Dancing in Diamonds" costume, designed for the occasion by Bob Mackey.
Murphy began dancing at a studio in Utica when she was three and continued taking classes for most of her life. Her mother encouraged her to compete in talent competitions and pageants and the two shared a passion for the Miss America competition and preliminary pageants.
She also danced with a youth group at the World's Fair and Lincoln Center.
At 16, Murphy began training to become a Rockette , even though her dream was to become a ballerina. She auditioned two years later, and at age 20 finally began performing her high-kicking routine at Rockefeller Center.
"During my first show, my family was all in the front row and when I came on stage I saw this white thing going down the line. I couldn't figure out what it was but then I realized it was Kleenex. They were all crying," Murphy laughed.
Working with seniors
Murphy is celebrating her 50th year by keeping busy. After moving to the Albany area in the 80s following some tough family decisions, she began working in retail while pursuing her passion for dance by teaching ballroom, tap and jazz classes.
She began as a youth instructor but said her true calling might be working with older people.
"Seniors need an avenue where they can join in with things, where they can still be a part of the community," she said.
Murphy has worked with groups across the Capital Region, teaching students "from age 2 to 102." She teaches the "Shen Showstoppers" and the "Timeless Tappers," senior dance groups that perform and compete locally and regionally. She also teaches youth dance classes in Galway and has worked at the continuing education program at Schenectady High School for over 15 years.
Recently, Murphy began teaching the "Live Life Through Dance" class as part of Schenectady ARC's "Tapping into the Arts" program. She also directs contestants in beauty pageants from across New York, with one competitor named this year's Miss New York Outstanding Teen.
Murphy has danced in a number of association shows since she left the Radio City stage, and said the training for those shows is just as demanding.
"I've had understanding managers who will let me take every Sunday off for a few months so I can learn the dances. I've just been pretty lucky up to this point that I've been able to juggle everything," she said.
On Rockette board
Murphy was recently re-elected to the board of directors of the Rockette Alumnae Association, a philanthropic organization that brings together Rockettes from all decades of performance. Nearly 80 years of high kicks and chorus lines lay in the hands of the association, which aims to maintain the organization's history while giving back to the community.
As a new member of the 50-plus club, Murphy doesn't seem to be slowing down at all.
"What it meant to be 50, say, 20 years ago is a lot different than what it means to be 50 now," she said.