The former Rockette at the helm of Western Carolina University’s dance program is preparing students to perform a Rockettes-inspired routine in the Asheville Holiday Parade on Saturday, Nov. 20, and make a surprise appearance at a WCU holiday show.
The group is scheduled to appear toward the end of the parade – not far from Santa – and will dance to a one-minute version of “Happy Holidays” from the musical “White Christmas.”
For Karyn Tomczak, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette who is the director of WCU’s dance program, planning the event for her students was about wanting to share with them some of what she enjoyed most from her time as a Rockette.
“I danced in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was hard work, but dancing so close with so many women at once really promoted ‘Rockette pride,’” said Tomczak. “I wanted to give our students a similar experience with the Asheville Holiday Parade, and I hope they feel ‘WCU pride’ for the School of Stage and Screen.”
Dancing has been part of Tomczak’s life since age 3. “I danced, it seemed like, all the time,” she said.
It was only nine years later that she decided she wanted to be a Rockette. “When all 36 walked out in straight line, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do that,’” said Tomczak, recalling the show she went to see with her mom.
Many years – and four auditions – later, she did, bringing with her the experience of performing in such internationally touring shows as “42nd Street” and “Funny Girl.”
The Rockettes’ four to six shows a day were so demanding that dancers kept sleeping bags in the dressing room to take naps. As a “swing,” Tomczak had to stand ready to go in for any one of the 36 Rockettes anywhere in their routines at any time during any of the shows, she said.
“It was pretty intense,” she said, though she added that the applause at the end made it all worthwhile.
After changing course in her career, Tomczak taught dance and worked at a junior high school and performing arts high school and college before coming to WCU in 2009 to direct the dance program. What she enjoys most is working with students who are serious about performing and sharing her experiences with them, and the messages they send back to her about how they are using what they learned mean a lot to her, she said.
“Just having that feedback tells me I’ve been on the right track,” said Tomczak. “A lot of people have asked me if I miss performing and I don’t. I truly feel like part of me is performing when they are.”
The dancers involved in the Rockettes-inspired performance are expected to make a surprise appearance at one of WCU’s holiday shows. The WCU calendar of events is available online at calendar.wcu.edu.