The Rockettes

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The Rockettes are known for their kickline. Rockettes 2239923477 139ea932b2.jpg
The Rockettes are known for their kickline.

The Rockettes are an American precision dance company. Founded 1925 in St. Louis, they have, since 1932(91 years ago), performed at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Until 2015, they also had a touring company. They are best known for starring in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, an annual Christmas show, and for performing annually since 1957 at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. [1]


There have been over 3,000 women who have performed as Rockettes since the New York Christmas Spectacular opening night in 1933. [2] [ better source needed ] The Rockettes also conduct the Rockette Summer Intensive for dancers aspiring to be Rockettes.


Early years

"Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" at the Christmas Spectacular Rockettes 4158767098 b667436066.jpg
"Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" at the Christmas Spectacular

The Rockettes were originally inspired by the Tiller Girls, a precision dance company of the United Kingdom established by John Tiller in the 1890s. Tiller sent the first troupe of Tiller Girls to perform in the United States in 1900, and eventually there were three lines of them working on Broadway. [3] In 1922, choreographer Russell Markert saw one of these troupes, known as the Tiller Rockets, perform in the Ziegfeld Follies and was inspired to create his own version with American dancers. [3]

As Markert would later recall, "If I ever got a chance to get a group of American girls who would be taller and have longer legs and could do really complicated tap routines and eye-high kicks, they'd really knock your socks off." [3] They were originally called the Missouri Rockets. After the impresario Roxy brought them to New York for his Roxy Theatre, they were called the Roxyettes. Only later would they become the Rockettes, after Roxy and Radio City Music Hall parted ways.

The Rockettes have long been represented by the American Guild of Variety Artists (AVGA). In 1967, they won a month-long strike for better working conditions, [4] which was led by AGVA salaried officer Penny Singleton. [5] In August 2002, contract negotiations for the troupe's veteran members resulted in a buyout by the owners of Radio City Music Hall. Roughly a fourth of the veteran Rockettes were offered retirement options, while the remaining dancers were offered the opportunity to re-audition. [6]

Discrimination and lack of diversity

The first non-white Rockette, a Japanese-born woman named Setsuko Maruhashi, was not hired until 1985. [7] The Rockettes did not allow dark-skinned dancers into the dance line until 1987. [8] The justification for this policy was that such women would supposedly distract from the consistent look of the dance group. [9] The first African American Rockette was Jennifer Jones; selected in 1987, she made her debut in 1988 at the Super Bowl XXIII halftime show. [10] The first person with a visible disability hired by the Rockettes (Sydney Mesher, missing a left hand due to symbrachydactyly) was hired in 2019. [11]

Radio City Rockettes

A Rockette in Radio City Music Hall Rockette RCMH.jpg
A Rockette in Radio City Music Hall

On August 1, 2007, the Rockettes were inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. [12]

Rockettes Summer Intensive

From 2002-2019 the Rockettes presented a dance training program called the Rockettes Summer Intensive. This weeklong dance education program offered aspiring dancers the opportunity to train with current Radio City Rockettes and choreographers and learn choreography from the Rockettes repertoire. Since its inception nearly 100 dancers from this program have become Rockettes.

Trump inauguration controversy

In late 2016, the Madison Square Garden Company, which manages the troupe, agreed to have the Rockettes perform at the inauguration of Donald Trump. [13] According to a report in the New York Daily News , there was an initial "edict" to perform at the inaugural. [14] Immediately several Rockettes dissented, [15] including Rockette Phoebe Pearl who complained that she was being forced to perform at the inaugural against her wishes. [16] One Rockette felt reluctant to "perform for this monster", referring to president-elect Donald Trump, and another said she "wouldn't feel comfortable standing near a man like that in our costumes." [17]

Madison Square Garden issued a statement saying that "For a Rockette to be considered for an event, they must voluntarily sign up and are never told they have to perform at a particular event, including the inaugural. It is always their choice. In fact, for the coming inauguration, we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available." Another report suggested that dancers were allowed to "opt-out" if they thought that they would feel uncomfortable performing. [14]

Many on social media believed attendance was mandatory, including Julissa Sabino, a performer who is part of the union, who tweeted that the issue "breaks my heart" and urged supporters to "help these ladies." Autumn Withers, a former Rockette, supported a boycott, saying "take a knee, ladies!" [18] [19] In December 2016, according to The Atlantic , three of the thirteen full-time dancers had chosen to sit out the event. [15] [20] The company danced to a medley of Irving Berlin songs at the Inaugural Ball on the evening of January 20. [21]

Notable former Rockettes

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  1. "10 Things You Didn't Know About the Rockettes". The Rockettes. 2017-07-17. Retrieved 2021-12-02.
  2. "10 Things You Didn't Know About the Rockettes". The Rockettes. 2017-07-17. Retrieved 2021-12-02.
  3. 1 2 3 "The Tiller Time Line". The Tiller Girls. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
  4. "Accord is reached in Rockettes strike" . The New York Times. October 13, 1967.
  5. "Penny Singleton". Wiegand Foundation. June 26, 2000. Retrieved 2010-08-18.
  6. "Rockettes Get Three-Year Contract That Includes Buyouts for Some". Los Angeles Times . Associated Press. August 22, 2002. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  7. "Radio City Music Hall Rockette Setsuko Maruhasi". Asiance. Archived from the original on 2010-02-06. Retrieved 2010-08-18.
  8. Cohen, Adam (September 28, 2003). "Rock of Ages (review of Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center by Daniel Okrent)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-18.
  9. Johnston, Laurie; Anderson, Susan Heller (March 30, 1983). "New York Day by Day; A Shift at the Music Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-18.
  10. "N.Y.'s Radio City Names First Black Rockette". Jet . Johnson Publishing Company. January 18, 1988. Retrieved 2010-08-18.
  11. Published at 3:56 pm on December 5, 2019 (December 5, 2019). "Dancer Born With One Hand Makes Radio City Rockettes History". Miami Herald . Associated Press. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  12. St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  13. "Donald Trump inauguration to feature Rockettes and Mormon choir". BBC News . Retrieved December 23, 2016. Several high-profile musicians including Elton John and Celine Dion have refused to perform at the event....
  14. 1 2 Dziemianowicz, Joe (December 24, 2016). "Rockettes can opt out of dance performance for Trump inauguration". New York Daily News. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  15. 1 2 Kornhaber, Spencer (December 23, 2016). "Donald Trump Makes War on Celebrities". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 27, 2016. ...Dolan announced that The Rockettes...would perform for Trump. Immediately, individual dancers began to dissent....
  16. Tacopino, Joe (December 23, 2016). "Rockette goes on Instagram rant over Trump Inauguration gig". New York Post . Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  17. Menza, Kaitlin (December 27, 2016). "A Rockette Speaks Out: Amidst the media storm about the pressure to perform at President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration, one dancer breaks rank for an exclusive interview about the turmoil behind the scenes". Marie Claire. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  18. Greene, Leonard (December 22, 2016). "Radio City's Rockettes, Mormon Tabernacle Choir slated to perform at Donald Trump's presidential inauguration". New York Daily News. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  19. Kennedy, Mark (December 23, 2016). "Rockettes' owners say attendance at inauguration is a choice". The Boston Globe . Associated Press. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  20. Desta, Yohana (December 2016). "Rockette Revelation Adds to Trump's Troubling Inauguration Woes". Vanity Fair . Retrieved December 29, 2016. ...Out of the 13 full-time, year-round Rockettes, three have already decided to sit out the event....
  21. Quinn, Dave (January 20, 2017). "The Rockettes Take the Stage at Inaugural Ball Amidst Internal Conflict and Public Backlash". People . Retrieved 2017-01-27.

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