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I’ve always dreamed of being a dancer.  I love to watch dance shows on TV such as Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.  Baby in Dirty Dancing?  I wanted to be her!  Alas, I am not coordinated and not built to be a dancer and so my dreams ended in about first grade.  Although a friend of mine has pursued dance as an adult because she too had always wanted to be a dancer, I’m going to take my failed attempts at Zumba class as a sign that I should stick to the audience.

And speaking of sticking to the audience… It’s on my bucket list to someday see those most famous dancers – The Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall.  It will require me to brave a visit to New York City but it would be worth it to see these talented women dance in such a historic venue.

Outside of the Radio City Music Hall decorated for Christmas in 2011
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Radio City Music Hall has been home of the precision dancers, the Rockettes, and the Christmas Spectacular since 1933!

Here are some fun facts about the Rockettes…

  • 1957 is the first year they participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • 1933 was the first Christmas Spectacular show
  • Jennifer Jones became the first African American Rockette in 1987
  • They used to perform before movies that were being shown at the theater.  Every movie required a different routine.
  • The original height requirement for dancers was shorter but the current height requirement is between 5’5″ and 5′ 10½”  By placing the tallest girls in the center and lining up in descending height order, the dancers create an optical illusion of being all the same height.
  • Another optical illusion is the famous eyehigh kicks that the Rockettes are known for. By kicking with their legs parallel and up to the exact eye-height of each dancer, it appears that all the dancers are kicking their legs to the same height.
  • On their busiest show days they kick 1,200 times in one day
  • Their quickest costume change during the show is just 78 seconds.  This quick change comes after the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.
  • The Rockettes started with 16 girls.  Now there are 80 Rockettes at a time which make up 2 different casts. Thirty-six perform in a show with 4 on standby in case of illness or injury.
  • The Rockettes were inspired by the British group, The Tiller Girls. The group, founded in 1925, was originally from Missouri and was called the Missouri Rockets.  The founder’s vision was a dance troupe of absolute precision and uniformity.
  • Over 3,000 women have been Rockettes
  • The dancers must be proficient in tap, jazz, and ballet.
  • The dancers’ shoes have microphones in them to make the sound of their tapping louder.  A single Christmas Spectacular season uses more than 14,000 AA batteries.
  • The Rockettes do their own hair and makeup.
  • The rosy cheeks are actually felt circles taped onto their faces.  They go through 30,000 cheeks each season.
  • Some dance numbers change from year to year but two of them have been the same since the beginning – Parade of the Wooden Soldiers and Living Nativity.  And yes, those are real animals on-stage for the Nativity.  If you happen to be out for an early morning or late-night walk near the Music Hall you might see the animals also out for a walk.
The Rockettes slowly collapse in the Dance of the Wooden Soldier, part of the Christmas Spectacular show
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Not only do they dance in perfect synchonicity, they also fall perfectly! The Dance of the Wooden Soldier has been part of the Christmas Spectacular since the first year.
[2009 photo by Bob Jagendorf]

What’s it like to be a Rockette?

You know I love a good “Day in the Life” story… here’s a 2005 article from the New York Times, “The Sweat-Soaked Life of a Glamorous Rockette”.  These ladies work HARD!

The Wall Street Journal did an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the Rockettes and the show itself.

And here’s a behind the scenes look at the first dress rehearsal for the 75th anniversary show in 2007, filmed by the New York Times.  (There’s a bus hanging from the ceiling!!)

(If the video doesn’t work here, try this link to the Times website-Rockette Rehearsal)

Would you like to be a Rockette?

Though it is an elite group, it’s not completely impossible to join.  The Rockette organization hosts a variety of options for learning their precision dance methods.  Anyone can participate in an hour-long Rockettes 101 beginner dance class!  For more serious dancers there are several small seminars for various ages and levels of dance proficiency.  And for the most advanced, skilled dancers, the Rockettes offer a 6-week Summer Intensive each year.  Auditions are required for the program but at the end, you could be one of the lucky few that earns a spot in the family.

Maybe you’d like to practice a few steps before the audition… here’s a video that shows how to do part of the 12 Days of Christmas tap dance.

Easy-peasy, right?

Want to know even more about the Rockettes?

Check out their blog!  Here you can find info such as how to dress as a Rockette for Halloween, more dance tutorial videos, what sort of workouts they do in the off-season, and more.

Prefer video?  Follow their YouTube channel!

Some things you can see on the Rockette’s YouTube channel include:

  • Dance workouts
  • Dance videos
  • Games
  • History
  • Meet the Rockettes – Glimpses behind the scenes
  • Auditions

A recent video talks with Jennifer Jones, the first Black Rockette

The Other Rockettes

Did you know?  There is another precision team named the Rockettes – the Finnish synchronized skating team!

2009 Finnish Synchronized Ice Skating Team - The Rockettes
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2009 Finnish Synchronized Ice Skating Team – The Rockettes!
[photo by Linnea Samila from Wikipedia]

Here’s a clip of some seriously cool synchronized ice skating.  It’s the Helsinki Rockettes 2019 short program at the World Synchronized Skating Championship.

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The Rockettes have been dancing at Radio City Music Hall since 1933. Find out who does their hair and makeup and how many cheeks they go through in a season then plan a visit to NYC to see the show.
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The Rockettes have been dancing at Radio City Music Hall since 1933. Find out who does their hair and makeup and how many cheeks they go through in a season then plan a visit to NYC to see the show.

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