A dancer making sure every step is toward her dream

Kristen Smith, a Rockette for nine years, is returning to the studio where she learned her skills


After she graduated from her childhood dance studio, Kristen Smith’s career took off. Now the Boston Conservatory alumna, former Rockette and current nursing student is coming back to guest-teach a lesson at Tap to Pointe Dance Center in Malverne.

“She was always talented, but she was a hard worker from the day she stepped into the studio,” Sara DeGennaro, the studio’s owner, said of Smith. “She’s mastered the ability to exhibit creativity and grace, and in other moments, strength and discipline.”

Smith, who’s from Malverne, was a toddler when she began dancing at Tap to Pointe. Her passion went beyond the studio — she danced as an elementary school student at Our Lady of Lourdes, and was the captain of the Red and Gold kickline at Sacred Heart Academy. When she began sending out college applications, she was torn as to whether to pursue dancing professionally.

“I think part of me thought maybe I couldn’t, because it really was so competitive that I wasn’t sure maybe if I would make it,” Smith recalled. But when she was accepted by the prestigious Boston Conservatory, it changed everything.

“Once I got in, I said, ‘You know what? I’ve gotta go for it. I can’t wonder “what if” my whole life.’”

Having decided to take the leap, Smith set her sights on a dream she’d had since she was 3: becoming a Rockette.

As a little girl, Smith attended the “Christmas Spectacular” at Radio City Music Hall every year, and marveled at the Rockettes’ famous holiday routines. Little did she know that she would eventually be one of them.

After her third audition, at age 20, Smith was accepted into the company.

“My very first performance, my mom and dad were in the very front row,” she recounted. “She had her tissues out, watching me. I basically cried, like, happy tears that whole show — because my dream had come true.”

“It was always her dream,” DeGennaro said. “I think that if you work hard and stay dedicated, that dreams can come true.”

Smith spent nearly a decade as a Rockette. But in the past year, her heart started pulling her in another direction.

“I knew once I was done with dancing, or kind of on the way out, that I wanted to do something meaningful,” she said.

In her nine years as a Rockette, one experience stood out. The dancers visited the kids being treated at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital in Manhattan, and Smith was struck by the love, care and dedication of their nurses.

“The best part of being a Rockette was seeing the children meet you and smile, and just say how excited they were to be there,” she said. “The more I thought about it, the more I became passionate about it, and I was like, ‘Wow, I think I need to pursue this.’”

Smith was accepted into the accelerated nursing program at New York University, and will graduate in May. And the best part? She is doing her clinical training at Hassenfeld.

Even though she is pursuing a new dream in her professional life, Smith remains a passionate dancer. She is now bringing that passion back to Tap to Pointe this December as a guest teacher for the current students of the studio.

“Miss Sara taught me everything I know,” Smith said. “The big thing now is tricks and whatnot, but I really felt like such a strong dancer because she instilled so much technique and discipline in all of us that I still carry with me to this day.”

Smith said that Tap to Pointe did nothing less than change her life. The girls she met at the studio are still her best friends, decades later. The fact that the little girls she will be teaching will be just like she was as a child promises to make the experience especially impactful, she said.

Smith wants them to know that if she can do it, any of them can. “Never, ever give up on your dreams,” she wants those girls to know. “As cliché as that is to say, it’s true. It’s really true.”

“If you want to pursue dance professionally, or dance in general, you’re going to hear a lot of no’s before you finally hear a yes,” she added. “Do not let no’s discourage you — because you will find a yes in your life.”