History of the Rockettes: Rise to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Glamour, patriotism, precision, commercialism, entertainment, and joy; these are just a few of the words that can be used to describe The Rockettes. Created in the 1920’s, this dance company has persevered well into present day and generated an American legacy.
The group was originally called the “16 Missouri Rockets” and was founded by Russell Markert St. Loius in 1925. Markert, was a choreographer who studied dance in Brooklyn and was inspired as a teenager when he saw the “Tiller Girls” in New York in the 1920s. The “Tiller Girls” made up an English dancing group that pioneered precision dance. The group was organized by John Tiller in 1890 and set out to create shows of joined women, with locked arms and connecting in dance unison. Tiller looked for women of the same weight, height, and stature to perform as a Tiller Girl. There were even Tiller Schools of dance. The concept of women dancing in unison was pretty developed by the time Markert came along, but it had never been Americanized.
Markert created the Missouri Rockets and dedicated himself to choreographing for them and developing their success. The group grew in size and started touring around the U.S. in 1925. The tour included their premiere on Broadway where they had their debut on a New York stage. During this show, theatre impresario Samuel Roxy noticed the dancing girls. Roxy convinced Markert to bring the Rockets to New York to perform at the Roxy Theatre. The group was renamed the “Roxyettes” and danced at the Roxy Theatre until Samuel opened Radio City Music Hall. The group performed as part of the opening night of the Radio City Music Hall in 1932, and became known as the “Rockettes”. They also performed in the first Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Hall in 1932, and the show has been performed annually ever since. Two of the dance pieces from the original production are still performed to this day!
Today, it is their starring role in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular that the Rockettes are probably most known for. This show is seen by more than 2 million people every year and has played in more than 60 cities across North America. The show debuted in 1933 and continues to show classic acts such as the “Parade of the Wooden Soldier” and “Christmas in New York.” 40 Rockettes perform in each show, but they are 80 in the company. There are 1300 costumes that are in every 90-minute show! (See below for more fun facts!)
The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular will be showing at Radio City Music Hall in New York City through the end of this month. If you’re in New York this season, I believe it this show would be a “must see”! You can also look for the Rockette’s Spring Spectacular show in March.
FUN FACTS ABOUT THE ROCKETTES:
- The Rockettes must be between 5’6’’ and 5’10 ½’’
- Auditions for the Rockettes are hosted annually in August and host 500 – 600 hopeful dancers.
- 72 wireless microphones are used to amplify the Rockette’s tap sounds. There is a small microphone on their tap shoes to catch and amplify the sounds of their tap dancing.
- 15,000 red dots are applied to the cheeks of the Rockettes each season for their number “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.”
- The Rockettes rehearse six hours a day, six days a week, for six weeks before opening day of the Christmas Spectacular. That 216 hours of rehearsal!
- The Rockettes will perform up to 16 shows a week (and sometimes 5 a day) during the busier holiday season.
We hope you enjoyed this little bit of history of the Rockettes!
Article by Bella Ballroom’s dance teacher, Ziva