The Rockettes are an American precision dance company. Founded in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri, they have performed at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, New York City, since 1932. Until 2015 they also had a touring company. They are best known for starring in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, an annual Christmas show, and for performing annually at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. The Rockettes also conduct the Rockette Summer Intensive for dancers aspiring to be Rockettes.
The Rockettes were originally inspired by the Tiller Girls, a precision dance company of the United Kingdom established by John Tiller in the 1890s. Tiller sent the first troupe of Tiller Girls to perform in the United States in 1900, and eventually there were three lines of them working on Broadway. In 1922, choreographer Russell Markert saw one of these troupes, known as the Tiller Rockets, perform in the Ziegfeld Follies and was inspired to create his own version with American dancers. As Markert would later recall, "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, they'd really knock your socks off."
The Rockettes have long been represented by the American Guild of Variety Artists. In 1967, they won a month-long strike for better working conditions, which was led by AGVA salaried officer Penny Singleton. In August 2002, contract negotiations for the troupe's veteran members resulted in a buyout by the owners of The Radio City Music Hall. Roughly a fourth of the veteran Rockettes were offered retirement options, while the remaining dancers were offered the opportunity to re-audition.
The first East Asian Rockette, a Japanese-born woman named Setsuko Maruhashi, was hired in 1985. The Rockettes did not allow dark-skinned dancers into the dance line until 1987. The justification for the policy against hiring African Americans was that they would distract from the consistent look of the dance group. The first African American Rockette was Jennifer Jones; she made her debut in 1988.
In late 2016, the Madison Square Garden Company, which manages the troupe, agreed to have the Rockettes perform at the inauguration of Donald Trump. According to a report in the New York Daily News, there was an initial "edict" to perform at the inaugural. Immediately several Rockettes dissented, including Rockette Phoebe Pearl who complained that she was being forced to perform at the inaugural against her wishes. One Rockette felt reluctant to "perform for this monster", referring to president-elect Donald Trump, and another said she "wouldn't feel comfortable standing near a man like that in our costumes."
Madison Square Garden issued a statement saying that "For a Rockette to be considered for an event, they must voluntarily sign up and are never told they have to perform at a particular event, including the inaugural. It is always their choice. In fact, for the coming inauguration, we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available." Another report suggested that dancers were allowed to "opt-out" if they thought that they would feel uncomfortable performing.
Many on social media believed attendance was mandatory, including Julissa Sabino, a performer who is part of the union, who tweeted that the issue "breaks my heart" and urged supporters to "help these ladies." Autumn Withers, a former Rockette, supported a boycott, saying "take a knee, ladies!" In December 2016, according to The Atlantic, three of the thirteen full-time dancers had chosen to sit out the event. The company danced to a medley of Irving Berlin songs at the Inaugural Ball on the evening of January 20.
Several high-profile musicians including Elton John and Celine Dion have refused to perform at the event....
...Dolan announced that The Rockettes...would perform for Trump. Immediately, individual dancers began to dissent....
...Out of the 13 full-time, year-round Rockettes, three have already decided to sit out the event....
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