Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Durham Performing Arts Center
Nov. 10–27

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about interviewing a Radio City Rockette over the phone is that you don’t get to see her in person. You don’t get to sit in the presence of a Rockette, to study and examine the toned physique and sturdy legs that have surely been well trained for any form of precision chorus-line dancing that gets thrown at ’em. Nor do you get to see those gams in action, whether it’s rehearsing a lavish stage number or just witnessing them do one high-step in the air.

Well, even when you’re deprived of those simple pleasures, the Rockette in question will let you know how wonderful and awesome it is to be in a legendary, American-as-apple-pie dance troupe that dates all the way back to 1933. That’s what Summer Renner told us recently as she was rehearsing for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which will play at the Durham Performing Arts Center for two weeks beginning on Thursday.

Renner just isn’t any ol’ regular Rockette. She’s a Rockette who comes from right here in the Triangle. The northern Virginia-born Renner, 25, has been a resident for a while, as her family moved to Chapel Hill a year ago. Her brother, Bryn, became a quarterback at UNC, and their father, Bill, a former Green Bay Packer, landed a coaching job at East Chapel Hill High School so he wouldn’t miss any of his boy’s games.

Daddy Renner may have pushed his boy into following in his old man’s footsteps, but little Summer was encouraged to take up dancing by her mom, Cindy, a former high school and college gymnast.

“She kind of pushed me a little bit,” says Renner. “She said when I was 2, I would stand in the crib and start dancing around.”

Renner took up dancing when she was 3, taking after-school classes and training with such companies as the Washington Ballet and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. In high school she got a scholarship to go to the Rockette Summer Intensive, the elite summer camp ran by Rockette dancers and choreographers, although she didn’t attend until she was in college at Florida State University, where she got a BFA degree in, of course, dance.

“That was kind of my first experience with the Rockettes,” she remembers. “And when I did that, I just kind of felt like it was what I wanted to do and what I was made for.”

Initially, she worried that she’d never get to be a Rockette because of height issues.

“You know, when I was a little kid, I was a little shorter,” she says. “And to be a Rockette, you have to be between 5’6″ and 5’10 1/2″. I’m 5’8″ right now, but when I was little, I was pretty short … And then I grew, like, four inches in a summer.”

She missed her college graduation to audition with the 500 other hopefuls at Radio City Music Hall angling to be a Rockette. Now she’s in her third year of hoofing it up with the Rockettes, whose 100 or so troupe members will be dancing in simultaneous Christmas shows in New York, Durham, Nashville and Boston this year.

“It’s kind of like a big sorority,” she says of the crew, which actually rehearses for the Christmas show not in New York but in a big mall space in Myrtle Beach. “We’re all kind of best friends. It’s an awesome Radio City family that we all have here. So it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of and, you know, I look forward to doing it every year.”

Renner says she’ll be one of the 18 Rockettes on display during the Durham show, dancing away to such staples as “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity.” And, of course, Renner is excited that she’ll be doing this in her neck of the woods, where family, friends and students (in the offseason she’s an instructor at Raleigh’s Stage Door Dance Productions) can see her in all her proud, high-kicking glory.

“It’s kind of its own special, special thing,” she says. “It’s a wonderful thing to say that you were a Rockette and have gone to other places. You meet women who are 60 years old and come up to you and say, ‘I did the Rockettes at Radio City.’ And they talk about their experiences and how similar it is.

“I mean, some girls have been to New York for a few years. And then they’re asked to come to a different city and do a different show … Everyone has different occupations and does different things during the year, but we’re all Radio City Rockettes.”