A long line of tall, beautiful women doing high kicks in perfect unison is an image as American as waving wheat or red, white and blue. Many little girls who dance dream of being a part of that line, but it takes a very special set of skills and talents to fit in. The Rockettes were originally known as "The Missouri Rockets" when they were created by Russell Markert in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1925. The dancers were brought to Radio City Music Hall by its founder, Samuel Roxy Rothafel, where they performed at its grand opening in 1932.
According to Markert's December 3, 1990 obituary in the New York Times, the original height requirements for a Rockette were that she be between 5' 5" and 5' 8" tall. The average height for women at that time was 5' 2". Markert had also required Rockettes to be skilled in ballet, tap and soft shoe.
Modern Height Requirements
In 2009, Rockettes must be between 5' 6" and 5' 10 1/2" tall. The average height of an American woman in 2009 is 5' 4". Measurements are verified at the time of the audition.
Markert looked for girls who were pretty and shapely and could kick at least six inches above their heads. He also required personalities that shone out from the stage as well as blending with those of the other dancers.
Casting calls for modern-day Rockettes on the Radio City Music Hall audition site also require that women trying be quick learners and proficient in jazz and tap.
Until 1987, only Caucasian women were accepted as Rockettes due to concerns that the appearance of women of color would violate the ensemble's visual symmetry. This was a reflection of founder Markert's vision of the dancers as "mirror images" of each other, which was so all-encompassing that he even forbade his dancers from getting suntans. The integration of the Rockettes was a smooth transition, first with a Japanese dancer being hired for the New York troupe in 1986, followed by two black women the following year.
In a New York Times article published on December 26, 1987, Manhattan Borough President, David N. Dinkins--the highest-ranking black in city government at that time--commented that "The quality of a production and its success at the box office are affected more by the talent of the performers than whether they look alike. It's the costumes that provide the sameness.''
Influence and Popularity
The precision dance routines made famous by the Rockettes have influenced ensemble dancing from the stages of Las Vegas to the half-time football fields of middle America. In 2001, the Rockettes performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the Inauguration of George W. Bush, and during the Christmas season they continue to perform five shows a day, seven days a week, as they have since 1932.