Radio City Backstage Tour

jporper A Rockette Out of Line 0 Comments

“HEY, MA! ISN’T THAT A REAL LIVE ROCKETTE?!!!”

Radio City Backstage Tour

So, when I was a Rockette, they had an extra job we could do between dancing gigs. It was being the surprise (woohoo) Rockette during the backstage tour. Hilarious…

Tourists would be taken through the labyrinth of backstage, costume shop, executive offices and finally through the rehearsal studios, aka: Small Rehearsal Hall and/or Large Rehearsal Hall, where depending on what was actually rehearsing, a Radio City Rockette would happen to be waiting to meet the tour group. We were paid $25/hour to sit around for 40 minutes until the next group of tourists came through when we did our 10 minute spiel. My cue to get ready was when I heard someone speaking down the hall. I’d throw my 20 pound hat back on, do a quick make-up check and toss my leg on the barre, as if “I was stretching and they caught me (hee hee).”

This is the exact speech the Publicity department gave me:

HI. MY NAME IS ___________ AND I’M A RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL ROCKETTE. I’M ORIGINALLY FROM _________ AND I’M HAPPY TO WELCOME YOU TO RADIO CITY. THE REHEARSAL HALL YOU PASSED ON THE WAY OVER IS ALMOST THE EXACT SIZE OF THE STAGE AND IS MARKED TO INDICATE THE STAGE ELEVATORS, POSITIONS OF THE PROPS USED DURING A PARTICULAR SHOW AND THE POSITIONS FOR THE DANCERS. YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED THAT THE BAR AGAINST THE MIRROR IS A FEW INCHES HIGHER THAN THE AVERAGE DANCE BAR. THE REASON FOR THIS IS THE ROCKETTES MUST STRETCH THEIR LEGS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE IN ORDER TO MASTER OUR FAMOUS EYE-HIGH KICKS. IF YOU’VE EVER SEEN THE ROCKETTES PERFORM, YOU’VE SEEN THAT WE ALL APPEAR TO BE THE SAME HEIGHT. THIS ILLUSION IS CREATED BY PLACING THE TALLEST GIRLS IN THE CENTER DESCENDING IN HEIGHT TO THE ENDS TO THE SHORTER GIRLS. THE TALLEST GIRL CAN’T MEASURE MORE THAN 5’9” WHILE THE SMALLEST GIRL IS 5’5 ½” AND ALL THE ROCKETTE HOPEFULS ARE MEASURED DURING AUDITIONS ON THE OFFICIAL MEASURING STICK AGAINST THE DOOR.

THE ROCKETTE TROUPE WAS FOUNDED BY RUSSELL MARKERT IN 1925, SEVEN YEARS BEFORE RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL OPENED. A TROUPE OF PRECISION DANCERS, BILLED AS THE “MISSOURI ROCKETS”, DEBUTED IN ST. LOUIS AND WERE SO WELL RECEIVED THAT MARKERT BOOKED THEM ON A CROSS-COUNTRY TOUR, RENAMING THEM THE “ROCKETS”. WHEN THEY APPEARED AT THE RIVOLI THEATRE IN NEW YORK, THEY WERE SPOTTED BY IM PRESARIO S.L. ROXY ROTHAFEL WHO HIRED THEM FOR HIS ROXY THEATRE. THEY THEN BECAME KNOWN AS “RUSSELL MARKERT’S ROXYETTES”. THEIR FIRST SHOW WAS N EASTER SHOW AT THE ROXY THEATRE. WHEN ROXY MOVED TO THE MUSIC HALL, HE TOOK THE ROXYETTES WITH HIM AND CHANGED THEIR NAME FOR THE LAST TIME TO THE ROCKETTES, THE NAME FAMILIAR TO MILLIONS OF PEOPLE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. RUSSEL MARKERT REMAINED AS DIRECTOR AND CHOREOGRAPHER OF THE ROCKETTES UNTIL 1971. HE REFERRED TO THE GIRLS AS HIS “DANCING DAUGHTERS” AND WHEN HE WATCHED THEM ON STAGE FROM THE WINGS, HE WOULD SHOUT “SHAKE IT UP FOR DADDY.”

WHEN MARKERT RETIRED, ON HIS LAST DAY, HE FOUND THAT HIS BELOVED TAP SHOES WERE MISSING FROM HIS CLOSET. AT HIS FAREWELL PARTY, MARKERT WAS PRESENTED WITH A PLAQUE DISPLAYING THE BRONZED TAP SHOES THAT READ “SHAKE IT UP FOR DADDY, YOUR DANCING DAUGHTERS.”

THE ROLE OF THE ROCKETTE IS EVER EXPANDING. NO LONGER DO WE DANCE SOLELY FOR MUSIC HALL AUDIENCES. OUR BUSY SCHEDULE NOW INCLUDES CONVENTIONS, SPORTING EVENTS, NATIONAL TOURS AND GLAMOUROUS APPEARANCES ON FILM AND TELEVISION. IN RECENT YEARS WE APPEARED WITH SUCH LUMINARIES AS ANN MARGARET, CHITA RIVERA AND SUSAN ANTON TO NAME A FEW.

AS THE ROCKETTE ROLE HAS EXPANDED, SO HAS THE TROUPE—100 DANCERS ARE CURRENTLY ON STAFF, THUS ENABLING MANY LINES OF ROCKETTES TO PERFORM AT ANY GIVEN TIME. THE NUMBER OF ROCKETTES IN A LINE CAN VARY DEPENDING ON THE PRODUCTION AND THE SIZE OF THE STAGE. AS MANY AS 60 OF US APPREARED IN A RECENT DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW, WHILE AS FEW AS 12 ROCKETTES TAPPED WITH TOMMY TUNE IN A SPECIAL 1991 NEW YEAR’S EVE CELEBRATION AT THE RAINBOW ROOM.

PEOPLE ALWAYS ASK ME WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A ROCKETTE AND MY ANSER IS ALWAYS THE SAME—IT’S GREAT!! THERE IS LITTLE THAT BRINGS AS MUCH JOY AS DANCING FOR AN AUDIENCE OF SMILING AND APPLAUDING PEOPLE.

This is what I said, “Hi, would anyone like a picture?”

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