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Since New York's Radio City Music Hall opened in 1932, the name Rockettes has been associated with long chorus lines of high-kicking, long-legged female dancers. Many who have never been to New York or seen the famous Rockettes have imitated them in talent shows or on-the-spot picture poses. Their widespread fame is a tribute to the public fascination with the controlled excellence of their dancing (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1).

The Rockettes originated in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1925. Their original name was the Missouri Rockets. They were the brainchild of producer Russell Markert (1899–1990), who was inspired by watching the precision dancing of the Ziegfeld Follies (see entry under 1900s—Film and Theater in volume 1) of 1922. Markert's group was soon discovered by New York theater owner Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel (c. 1881–c. 1936), who changed the group's name to the Roxyettes and signed the dancers to perform at his Manhattan theater, the Roxy. In 1932, Rothafel opened a new theater in New York, the lushly decorated Radio City Music Hall. He moved his dance troupe there and changed its name one last time—to the Rockettes.

The Rockettes' performances are marked by tightly coordinated precision jazz (see entry under 1900s—Music in volume 1) and tap dance routines, featuring high kicks and controlled arm movements, all moving at the same time. Even the dancers must be about the same size; all Rockettes are between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall. Though only 36 women perform in the chorus line of each show, there are over 175 dancers in the entire troupe. Most have been white, leading to charges of racism and a responding commitment to the equal opportunity hiring of dancers in the mid-1980s.

Audiences were delighted by the Rockettes' skill, beginning in 1933, when Radio City Music Hall began featuring a movie and a stage show up to four times a day. Regular performances continued until 1971. Since then, Rockettes still perform special shows at Radio City. Their famous Christmas Spectacular is the best-attended live show in the United States. Rockettes have also left New York to travel the world. During World War II (1939–45), Rockettes joined the United Service Organizations (USO), entertaining troops. There is a permanent Rockette show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Since the mid-1990s, troops of Rockettes have performed the Christmas Spectacular in places as varied as Detroit, Michigan; Mexico City, Mexico; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

—Tina Gianoulis

For More Information

Alliotts, John. "Precision Dancing." Dance Magazine (Vol. 56, December 1982): pp. 42–45.

Dunning, Jennifer. "Rockettes, Women with a Long Line of History." The New York Times (Vol. 147, December 27, 1997): p. A11.

Owen, Elizabeth. "50 Years Old and Still Kicking." Life (Vol. 5, December 1982): pp. 122–27.

Peterson, Gregory. "What's All White, and Dances in New York?" The New York Times (Vol. 134, May 31, 1985): p. 23.

"The Radio City Rockettes." Radio City Music Hall. (accessed February 7, 2002).

Wentink, Andrew Mark. "The Rockettes at Radio City." Dance Magazine (Vol. 55, May 1981): pp. 54–59.

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