Monday, December 5, 2011

Getting Your Kicks

Thirty-six synchronized Rockettes are kicking up a storm four or five times a day in the current Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.  With all that kicking, you’d think they might have been named the Kickettes—but thereby hangs a tale.

The Rockettes originated when a Broadway dancer named Russell Markert saw the John Tiller Girls in the 1922 Ziegfeld Follies. Markert is said to have said: “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 knock your socks off!" He got his chance in St. Louis in 1925 when he put together a tall, long-legged, tap-dancing, high-kicking, socks-knocking-off group of precision dancers he called the Missouri Rockets.

They danced all over the Midwest and in 1930 came to the attention of New York producer and theatre owner Samuel Lionel Rothafel.  Rothafel was known as “Roxy”—a nickname he acquired when he played on a Pennsylvania baseball team, and as he ran on an iffy double, a little boy yelled “Slide, Roxy!”  When Roxy opened a snazzy Broadway theatre in 1927, he modestly called it the Roxy.

Rothafel installed the 50 Missouri Rockets in the Roxy’s vaudeville show—and renamed them—what else?—the “Roxyettes.”

In 1932, Rothafel opened the new Radio City Music Hall, and moved his dancers there, once again renaming them, this time as the “Rockettes.” Markert remained their choreographer until he retired in 1971. The number of dancers eventually stabilized at 36, and a legend was born.

The legendary Bard of Buffalo Bayou was not born, but sprang full-grown from the brow of Edgar Guest.  As hommage to his mentor, the Bard makes this poetic offering:

            Foxy Roxy,
            Full of moxie,
            Was a Broadway pro.
            His Rockettes
            Turned pirouettes
            And put on quite a show.
            Sky-high kicks
            Made fans all shout “Bravo!”
            But Roxy cried,
            “Not satisfied!
            Those kicks are much too low!

            Now I require
            That you kick higher,
            And please don’t tell me ‘no’!”
            The girls complied,
            And they all tried,
            As high as they could go.
            “Now don’t get bitchy,”
            Declared the itchy
            “I won’t relent,
            Or be content,
            Until my fortunes grow!”

            Up to the sky,
            The girls kicked high,
            But they brought Roxy woe—
            The Rockettes’ magic
            Turned sadly tragic
            When they got vertigo. 

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