Mary Olsen ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Christmastime in New York City is a theatrical event in itself with enormous decorations, a grand tree in Rockefeller Center, and the buzzing energy that comes with being in the city around the holiday. One of New York’s famous Christmas traditions originally appeared on the stage at Radio City Music Hall and has now high-kicked its way across the nation. This tradition is, of course, the Radio City Rockettes! Just about every American is familiar with these festive dancers, but what is it about them that makes the holiday season so sparkly and fun for Christmas lovers of all ages?
The Rockettes didn’t start out as Christmas performers. Russell Market created the group in 1925 under the name “The Missouri Rockets.” Groups such as the Ziegfeld Follies had inspired Market to create his own troupe of dancers with specific features such as a tall, lean figure and long legs. These women would have to be able to perform complicated numbers in perfect synchronization to really wow the audience. The troupe eventually went on to perform in Radio City Music Hall at its inauguration in 1932, and was established as an opening number for movies that premiered there. They had a weekly performance before new films, but since then their performances have been narrowed down to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, various talk shows, and at the Daytime Emmy Awards.
What started out as a group of sixteen women dancing before a movie show has become a quintessential part of the theater’s holiday season. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular has branched out to other cities, including Boston, to spread holiday cheer outside of Manhattan. The show includes several festive scenes with dance interludes by the Rockettes. Each scene is incredibly elaborate and flashy, just like Christmas itself. It is geared toward a family audience, making the show a holiday destination for generations of people.
Though the entire show itself is full of magic, there is just something about the Rockettes that fascinates audiences. The precision in their dancing is a feat that causes any jaw to drop. Each step is perfectly synchronized to the point of amazement. This is one of the reasons audiences are so enthralled with the women of the Rockettes. They must be perfect to pull off illusions like the falling wooden soldiers or the endless Santa Clauses that dance on a screen behind them. If one Rockette misses a step, a scene could go completely off-kilter. Their incredible training certainly pays off when each leg kicks up with the others and audiences gasp in amazement.
The Rockettes’ costumes are also a thing of wonder. Each glittering leotard sparkles up on stage with dazzling energy. But their costumes didn’t always look like they do now because of the ever-changing world of women’s fashion and what is considered appropriate dance apparel. One drastic change was in the shortening of the dancers’ hemline after the invention of the bikini. This led to the increasing sex appeal of the Rockettes, as audiences saw more and more of their famous legs. Numbers and costumes are often changed, added to, or removed from the show, making it exciting to watch it evolve as time passes. Whether they are dressed up as Santas, reindeer, wooden soldiers, tourists in fluffy coats, or sparkling Christmas presents, their outfits reflect the spirit of the season—shiny, fun, and with lots of flair.
Whether one is attracted to the Rockettes for their dance skills, beautiful costumes, bright energy, or incredible legs, it is hard to deny that they are a huge part of theater at Christmastime. There is no theater tradition that is more festive and uplifting than the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, whether it is at the famous Radio City Music Hall or in cities across the country. There is something about these high-kicking women that impresses audiences and gets them in the holiday spirit. Even families that may not be able to see them in person can look forward to their appearances on television starting Thanksgiving Day. These dancing beauties are even taking on a new show in 2015 called the New York Spring Spectacular, capturing the beauty of New York in the springtime. But although the Rockettes are delving into new seasons, there will be nothing like the magic in their classic Christmas routines.