WESTFIELD, NJ — Nikki Hester grew up in Westfield with a love for dance and the arts. Now in her 11th year as member of the world-famous Radio City Rockettes, Hester has traveled all over the world and performed with such stars as Beyonce, Chita Rivera, Rob Ashford and many other well-known artists.

The versatile dancer, who trained in ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance recently spoke to Tapinto Westfield about her childhood here and life as a dancer.

Q.  How long did you live in Westfield?

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A. I have lived in Westfield, New Jersey, all of my life and my family still lives in Westfield. 

Q.  What schools did you go to?

A. I went to Jefferson Elementary School in Westfield, Edison Intermediate in Westfield and Westfield High School. I also went to University of the Arts for college in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Q.  Where did you develop a love and passion for dancing?

A. I always loved watching my older sister in dance class when I was growing up. When I was 5 years old, I started dancing at Broadway Dance Center in New York City. I found my love and passion for dancing in first grade when I stepped on stage for my very first recital and felt the rush from the audience.

In sixth grade, I began at Princeton American Repertory Ballet School in New Jersey and joined the Junior Ballet Company. There, I performed in my first “Nutcracker” and decided I was going to dedicate myself to the craft of dance.

Q.  How did growing up in Westfield shape you as an adult?

A. I'm very grateful to have been able to grow up in Westfield. It is a beautiful town with a great school system. It encouraged me to be open-minded and gave me the opportunity to be a part of so many wonderful things. I was able to participate in track and field, play violin in the orchestra and perform in plays and musicals. Westfield molded me into a go-getter and a leader.

Q.  What has it been like to be a Radio City Rockette for so many years?

A. It's been such an honor to be a part of this legacy and have the opportunity to do what I love in such an amazing, iconic theater in New York City, Radio City Music Hall. The Rockettes have been starring in the “Christmas Spectacular” for over 80 years and I can truly say I’m a part of the best holiday show in the world.

So many women dream of becoming a Radio City Rockette and I’m very proud, honored and grateful to be able to call myself one for the last 11 years. I've made so many friendships along the way and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. It's glitz and glam, but we're still athletes putting in all the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed.

Q. Can you share one of your best memories as a Rockette?

A. My best memory is performing for the first time on the great stage at Radio City Music Hall. I danced my way onto the stage not expecting to see 6,000 people in the audience. The very first person I saw was my proud mom crying tears of joy. We were both overwhelmed, excited, anxious and full of so many emotions. I looked at her and said, “Mama, we did it!”

Q.  What are your plans for the future?

A. I plan on re-auditioning every year and being a Radio City Rockette for as long as possible. I love my job. My main focus right now is doing what I love and sharing that joy with the hundreds of thousands of people that come to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall every year.

Q.  Who have been your mentors or role models in dance or in life?

A. I have several, but my number one role model has always been my mother. I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for her passion, drive and dedication in helping me succeed.

Also, my previous and current directors and dance captains at Radio City Music Hall inspire me to push myself to be better every day and to never settle for anything less than my best. They have changed me as a person and a dancer. I cherish every moment dancing with the Rockettes and will be forever grateful to the women by my side.

Q.  What has it been like to be an African-American in a profession where African-Americans have not always been well represented?

A. It's an honor to be a part of an amazing legacy that represents all women. I look forward to dancing with the Rockettes for many more years and continuing to be on a line that empowers all women to follow their dreams.

A frequent contributor to Tapinto Westfield, Mike Cohen is the founder/director of Throwback Sports (a sports program for children of all abilities) and the sports editor of Education Update. He can be reached at throwbacksports@verizon.net