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History of the Rockettes Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Glamour, patriotism, accuracy, commercialism, entertainment, and joy are just a few characteristics that define The Rockettes. This dancing troupe, founded in the 1920s, has survived to the present day and left an American heritage.

Russell Markert St. Loius created the club, initially known as the “16 Missouri Rockets,” in 1925. Markert was a choreographer who studied dance in Brooklyn and was influenced as a youngster by the “Tiller Girls” in New York in the 1920s. The “Tiller Girls” were an English dance troupe who pioneered precision dance. John Tiller founded the organization in 1890 with the goal of creating exhibitions of linked women with clasped arms and joining in dancing synchrony. Tiller sought ladies of similar weight, height, and stature to perform as Tiller Girls. There were even Tiller dancing schools. By the time Markert arrived, the notion of ladies dancing in unison was well developed, but it had never been Americanized.

Markert founded the Missouri Rockets and has dedicated his life to choreographing for them and ensuring their success. In 1925, the group increased in number and began travelling around the United States. The tour featured their Broadway debut, when they made their New York stage debut. Samuel Roxy, the theatre entrepreneur, saw the dancing girls during this performance. Roxy persuaded Markert to bring the Rockets to New York for a performance at the Roxy Theatre. The trio was dubbed the “Roxyettes” and continued to perform in the Roxy Theatre until Samuel constructed Radio City Music Hall. The ensemble became known as the “Rockettes” after performing at the Radio City Music Hall’s inaugural night in 1932. They also appeared in the first Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Hall in 1932, which has been repeated every year since. Two of the original production’s dance routines are being performed today!

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The Rockettes are arguably best recognized today for their prominent part in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This concert is viewed by over 2 million people each year and has been performed in over 60 places across North America. The program premiered in 1933 and still has iconic pieces including “Parade of the Wooden Soldier” and “Christmas in New York.” Each concert features 40 Rockettes, although the company totals 80. Every 90-minute performance has 1300 costumes! (See below for more interesting information!)

The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular will be performed at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall through the end of December. If you’re in New York this season,  this show is a “must see!”   In March, look for the Rockettes’ Spring Spectacular presentation.

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE ROCKETTES:

  • The Rockettes must be between 5’6″ and 5’10 12″ tall.
  • The Rockettes hold auditions in August each year, with 500 – 600 prospective dancers taking part.
  • The Rockettes’ tap noises are amplified using 72 wireless microphones. A tiny microphone is mounted on their tap shoes to capture and enhance the sounds of their tap dancing.
  • Each season, 15,000 red spots are placed on the Rockettes’ cheeks for their number “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.”
  • Six weeks before the Christmas Spectacular’s opening day, the Rockettes rehearse six hours a day, six days a week. That’s 216 hours of practice!
  • During the busy Christmas season, the Rockettes will perform up to 16 shows per week (and occasionally 5 per day).
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