12 High-Kicking Facts about the Radio City Rockettes

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Getty Images

More than 2 million people see the Radio City Rockettes's Christmas Spectacular show each season—and it’s a wonder you have to see to believe. Here are some things you might not have known about the leggy dance company, which has become synonymous with the magic of the holiday season.

1. THE GROUP GOT ITS START IN ST. LOUIS.

Nope, this wasn’t always a Midtown Manhattan production. The Rockettes launched in 1925 as the Missouri Rockets, a Follies-style dance troupe out of St. Louis. Creator Russell Markert got the idea after he was impressed by the UK precision dance troupe in 1922’s Ziegfeld Follies. “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,” he once said, “they’d really knock your socks off.”

2. THEY GOT THE ATTENTION OF A BROADWAY IMPRESARIO ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Theater magnate S.L. (“Roxy”) Rothafel caught a show while the group toured in New York and hired the dance team—then a group of 16 women—for his Roxy Theater (demolished in 1961, it stood at 50th Street and Seventh Avenue). The dance company went through a few names—the Roxyettes, the American Rockets, and even the Rosettes—before Roxy found a moniker and location that stuck.

3. THE ROCKETTES TOOK THE STAGE AT RADIO CITY ON DAY ONE.

Rothafel planned and designed Radio City Music Hall, a joint venture between John D. Rockefeller and RCA. On opening night, December 27, 1932, the precision dance team performed alongside 17 other acts, including Martha Graham and vaudevillian Ray Bolger (you might know him as the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz).

4. A YEAR LATER, THEY DEBUTED THE ICONIC CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR.

The team behind the show, produced by Leon Leonidoff (a Radio City mainstay, whose "name on a production represented a warranty of grandeur") and designed by Vincente Minnelli (eventual husband to Judy Garland and father of Liza), had major star power. Back then, the Rockettes and other live performers served as a sort of opener for screenings of the latest films. Now, of course, Radio City is a premier concert hall, akin to playing Carnegie Hall.

5. THE ROCKETTES WENT ON STRIKE IN 1967.

The troupe picketed outside Radio City that September, rallying for better wages given their demanding rehearsal schedule and pay for rehearsal time (previously they were paid only for performances). The standoff lasted 27 days and the dancers won out in negotiations, just in time for the holiday show to go on.

6. RUSSELL MARKERT STAYED WITH HIS GIRLS FOR DECADES.

At Radio City, the group’s creator continued on as their director, lead choreographer, and stern drill sergeant until his retirement in 1971. A father-like figure to about 2500 Rockettes, he referred to his employees as his “dancing daughters.”

7. PRECISION IS THE NAME OF THE GAME.


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Markert’s vision was a drill team that performed and moved as one dancer. For each member of the Rockettes to learn precisely how to hit her marks, choreographers assign a grid-like system of labels to the stage; one Rockette recently likened it to a game of Battleship.

8. THE DANCERS’ ATHLETICISM IS A THING OF BEAUTY.

Sure, people may write these girls off as “Stepford dancers, objectified women reduced to nothing but legs and teeth,” per The New York Times. But in the same story, the Times points out that the Rockettes’s physical accomplishment is nothing to sneeze at: “Even in a city full of sweating, striving talent, the Rockettes may well be the hardest-working women in show business.” Case in point: Before opening night, November 13, the troupe rehearses for six hours each day, six days a week, for nearly six weeks. On any given day, when the Rockettes perform up to five shows, a single dancer can do more than 1000 high kicks.

9. ONE OF THE TROUPE’S MOST CLASSIC NUMBERS HAS REMAINED UNCHANGED SINCE 1933.

“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” a perennial favorite in the Christmas Spectacular, has been part of the holiday show since its first year. Dancers, who take tiny, precise steps in straight formations, say it’s one of the hardest numbers in the show. Spoiler alert: The dance ends with a slow-motion backwards fall, where each soldier knocks down the next in a domino-effect move. Talk about Christmas magic.

10. THE COSTUME CHANGES ARE PRETTY INTENSE.

Speaking of the toy soldiers: the Rockettes have a mere 78 seconds to change out of those starchy white pants and impossibly high hats (which actually cover their eyes), and into their next costumes: the sparkly red and green dresses and white coats of the "Christmas in New York" number. The dancers also have to fit shoe, hat and, earring changes into those 78 seconds, and quickly remove the red felt circles that they adhere to their cheeks with double-stick tape during the toy soldier number. In one holiday season, the Rockettes go through 15,000 pairs of those red cheeks. Also, of their numerous other outfits, the Santa Claus costumes—which weigh 40 pounds each—are the only one they get to wear flat shoes with.

11. THE ROCKETTES ALSO EMPLOY LIVE CAMELS, SHEEP AND A DONKEY.


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For the Living Nativity number, which closes the show and involves a parade of robed dancers and animals walking below the North Star, the production trots out a few four-legged celebrities, including Ted the camel, who’s held his role for two decades and is said to be a bit of a prima donna. In 2015, for the first time, the Archbishop of New York blessed the show’s animals before opening night. During the show’s run, the animals actually live in Radio City and take walks outside on the streets in the wee hours each morning.

12. IT'S INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TO MAKE IT AS A ROCKETTE.

Hundreds of women audition every spring for 80 cast-member spots (though just 36 dancers perform at each show), and even Rockettes who want to return for another season must re-audition with no guarantee of a placement. Applicants must be skilled in tap, jazz, ballet, and modern dance, and must stand between 5’6” and 5’10½” without shoes. Plenty of hopefuls audition multiple times before they make the cut. Over the course of each show, every dancer changes costumes up to eight times, does more than 200 high kicks, and handles her own hair and makeup—multiple times a day for more than a month. Plus, they do all of this while maintaining chipper smiles, doing promotional appearances, and spreading good cheer.

Vans Is Launching a Harry Potter-Themed Collection of Sneakers and Apparel

© 2011 Warner Bros. Harry Potter Publishing Rights (c) J.K. Rowling
© 2011 Warner Bros. Harry Potter Publishing Rights (c) J.K. Rowling

If we’ve learned anything from the recent releases of Van Gogh-, David Bowie-, and NASA-themed collections of Vans shoes, it’s that you have to act fast—really fast—if you want to snag a limited edition sneaker. As CNN reports, customers are already begging Vans to take their money after the brand announced an upcoming Harry Potter collection, and the designs haven’t even been unveiled yet.

To the delight of self-proclaimed Gryffindors and Ravenclaws around the world, Vans just dropped this bombshell on its website: “Vans and Harry Potter collaborated to conjure up a magical collection of footwear, apparel, and accessories for witches, wizards, and muggles alike.”

As for the specific details and release date for the designs, Vans appears to be as good as Snape at keeping a secret. But if the background image on the website is any indication, the shoes will likely be modeled after the four Hogwarts houses.

We can also likely expect to see a variety of classic shoe styles. Past pop culture-inspired Vans collections have been based on Old Skool, slip-on, platform, and high-top models.

To receive updates on the Harry Potter collection, submit your email address here.

[h/t CNN]

Out of Print's Retro Star Wars T-Shirts Pay Homage to an '80s Reading Campaign

Out of Print
Out of Print

If only Luke had known that he could use a book to channel The Force, it might have saved him a whole lot of hassle. Online retailer Out of Print has united two nerdy camps—readers and Star Wars lovers—with its latest collection of retro-inspired T-shirts.

One shirt features Yoda with the text, “Read and The Force is with you.” A Princess Leia tee says, “Read: It’s our only hope,” while one of Darth Vader says, “Read: Use the power of The Force.”

A Star Wars t-shirt
Out of Print

If the graphics look familiar, it’s because they’re from the American Library Association’s Star Wars-themed READ campaign, which first emerged in 1983 with a poster of Yoda holding a book.

“Star Wars is a vehicle to help support and excite young readers,” Todd Lawton, Out of Print’s co-founder, told StarWars.com. “That’s perfectly in line with our mission and we feel that the world’s a better place if people are reading more books. So when you see a character like Yoda or Darth Vader presented in a way that’s supporting this love of reading and the importance of reading, we want to show that and celebrate that as well.”

An Out of Print T-shirt featuring Darth Vader
Out of Print

The shirts are priced at $28 or $30 apiece, depending on whether it’s a classic unisex T-shirt or relaxed fit tee. Kids’ shirts are also available for $20 each.

Out of Print is also selling a Little Golden Books collection of Star Wars hardcovers, including A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and an anthology with seven books in one. For more literary-inspired apparel, totes, accessories, and more, check out the company's website.

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