13 Things You Never Knew About the Rockettes

For more than eight decades, the Rockettes have lit up Radio City Music Hall with their precise legwork and boundless energy. In honor of their new show, New York Spring Spectacular, here's a closer look at the dance company's history and surprising behind-the-scenes trivia.

the rockettes and derek hough
Courtesy MSG Entertainment

1. They weren’t always the Rockettes—Russell Markert formed the group in St. Louis, Missouri in 1925 as the Missouri Rockets. Two years later, vaudeville producer Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel recruited the women to perform at his Times Square venue, the Roxy Theatre, and renamed them the Roxyettes. When he opened Radio City Music Hall in 1932, the group danced to “With a Feather in Your Cap” on opening night.

2. The Tiller Girls, a precision dance group from England, sparked the idea for the group’s inception. After seeing the British troupe perform in a 1922 Ziegfeld Follies production, Markert dreamed of creating an American analogue with higher kicks and more elaborate routines, all brought to life by statuesque dancers.

3. The New York Spring Spectacular show (essentially a love letter to the Big Apple set in iconic locations such as Grand Central Terminal, Wall Street, and the New York Public Library) features a number called “Electricity,” in which each dancer dons a jacket fitted with 152 wirelessly controlled LED lights that correspond to the dancers’ choreography.

4. They wear wireless microphones in their shoes to amplify the sounds of their tap dancing—and those mics pick up every sound, so dancers have to be extra careful with their footwork onstage.

5. They’re pros at costume changes: In the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the tightest window of costume change time is 78 seconds.

Andrew Hetherington for Reader’s Digest

6. Not to mention they’ve got an elaborate basket system to keep wardrobes organized: Backstage, an unfathomable 250 laundry baskets await dancers and cast members looking to shed their costumes.

7. Your eyes deceive you: They’re not all the same height. The Rockettes create an optical illusion by positioning the tallest woman in the middle and the shorter women out toward the ends. Dancers actually range from 5’6 to 5’10.5 tall, a standard that’s strictly enforced by measuring them without shoes and with their hair pushed down.

8. They helped kick-start the launch of Diet Coke. When Coca-Cola rolled out its new sugar-free soft drink in the summer of 1982, the company taped its commercial spot at Radio City. The television ad featured the world-famous Rockettes dancing beneath a lit-up marquee that read “Diet Coke.”

9. Though their moves and music have changed with the times, the Rockettes still faithfully perform two classic numbers from the first Christmas Spectacular in 1933—”Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “Living Nativity”—with few, if any, variations in choreography.

10. They use more than just makeup to transform their faces. Rather than use blush to create their rosy red cheeks during the Christmas Spectacular’s toy soldier dance, the women fasten red felt circles to their cheeks with double-sided tape.

11. In the six weeks before a show’s opening night, the women spend six hours a day for six days a week rehearsing. That’s 216 hours, or nine solid days.

12. Over 500 women line up to audition for the Rockettes every year. And the competition doesn’t end even once they’re in: Dancers must prove themselves annually by auditioning to keep their spots.

13. Look closer—they only appear to be linking arms. In order to avoid pushing on neighboring dancers in a kick line, the women allow some space in between each other’s overlapping arms and use their own strength to maintain posture.

The New York Spring Spectacular runs in New York City from March 26 to May 3, 2015. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest