The Rockettes are a precision dance company. Founded in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri, since 1932 they have performed at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, New York City. During the Christmas season, the Rockettes present five shows a day, seven days a week. Perhaps their best-known routine is an eye-high leg kick in perfect unison in a chorus line, which they include at the end of every performance. Their style of dance is a mixture of modern dance and classic ballet. Auditions to become a Rockette are always in April in New York City. Women who audition must show proficiency in several genres of dancing, mainly ballet, tap, modern, and jazz. Normally, 400 to 500 women audition yearly.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is performed annually at Radio City Music Hall. Numerous other shows are performed in American and Canadian cities by a touring company of Rockettes. It is one of the most-watched live shows in the United States, with over 2 million viewers per year. The Rockettes have performed annually at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1957 as the last pre-parade acts to perform. The NBC Rockefeller Center Tree-Lighting Ceremony also traditionally includes a performance by the dance troupe.
The group was founded in St. Louis by Russell Markert in 1925, originally performing as the "Missouri Rockets". Markert had been inspired by the John Tiller Girls in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1922, and was convinced, "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 knock your socks off!" The group was brought to New York City by Samuel Roxy Rothafel to perform at his Roxy Theatre and renamed the "Roxyettes". When Rothafel left the Roxy Theatre to open Radio City Music Hall, the dance troupe followed and later became known as the Rockettes. The group performed as part of opening night at Radio City Music Hall on December 27, 1932. That same year, they performed in the first Christmas Spectacular performed at Radio City Music Hall and have performed in consecutive annual productions of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular since then. Two numbers from the original production are still performed to this day.
One is "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" choreographed by Markert with costumes designed by Vincent Minelli. Today, the Rockettes perform choreography that is virtually unchanged since its creation over 80 years ago. The routine features the Rockettes dressed as wooden soldiers performing a kaleidoscope of formations in military precision culminating with a cannon shot which knocks the dancers over like a line of dominoes for a breathtaking finale. "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" is an often overlooked and underappreciated piece of classic American choreography which has been meticulously preserved by the Rockettes.
The second piece that has remained a part of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular since its first performance is "The Living Nativity". It features the entire cast along with a parade of sheep, donkeys, and camels which bring to life the Christmas story onstage, creating a beautiful and larger-than-life Nativity scene.
In 1936, the troupe won the grand prize at the Paris Exposition de Dance.
The Rockettes have long been represented by the American Guild of Variety Artists. In 1967, they won a month-long strike for better working conditions, which was led by AGVA salaried officer Penny Singleton.
The first East Asian Rockette, a Japan-born woman named Setsuko Maruhashi, was hired in 1985. The Rockettes did not allow dark-skinned dancers into the dance line until 1987. The justification for the policy against hiring African Americans was that they would distract from the consistent look of the dance group. The first African American Rockette was Jennifer Jones; she made her debut in 1988.
At the very first WrestleMania in 1985, which took place at Madison Square Garden, four Rockettes accompanied guest timekeeper Liberace to the ring for his introduction. During the halftime show of Super Bowl XXII in 1988, the Rockettes were seen by a television audience of 150 million viewers. George W. Bush's 2001 Presidential Inauguration Ceremony featured the performers prancing down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Since the 1990s, the Rockettes have only performed from November to January in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular along with promotional appearances throughout the year. In early 2014, a multi-year development for a new Spring show to be called "Heart and Lights" was shelved just days before opening for previews. The show was reworked and opened a year later in 2015 under the title "Spring Spectacular". The new production extends their employment considerably and allows them to entertain audiences almost year round.
In 2007, the Rockettes were inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Every Rockette must be between 5 ft 6 in and 5 ft 10 1⁄2 in tall. The illusion that all the Rockettes are the same height is created by placing the tallest women at the center of the line and then in descending height order to the ends. Performing a personality kick (when one's toes are eye level) ensures that all the kicks will appear to be at exactly the same level with no one dancer kicking higher than any other. Dancers under and over the height requirement are ineligible to audition.