Posted on April 30, 2019

The Rockettes Race to Reverse Long History of Excluding Black Women

Susan Edelman, New York Post, April 27, 2019


Russell Markert, who founded the Rockettes in 1925 in St. Louis, Mo., forbid his all-white dancers to even suntan lest one of them “look like a colored girl,” he admitted decades later. It wasn’t until 1987 that the precision-dance troupe hired its first black member, Jennifer Jones.

The Rockettes, now owned by Madison Square Garden Co., has launched a broad new campaign to find women of color for its 2019 Christmas Spectacular — and beyond, spokeswomen told The Post.

“There is an awareness that there needs to be representation,” said Danelle Morgan, 33, who is black. A 13-year Rockette veteran, she is a leader of the diversity drive. “We want the line to be a reflection of all different faces and backgrounds.”

For the first time in 10 years, the Rockettes will hold “open call” auditions outside NYC, with Chicago and Atlanta tryouts scheduled in May.

Last season, the 80-member troupe — which features two casts of 36 dancers and four substitutes — included just four black women, or two per show, the company said.

Hopefuls must be at least 18 years old, between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-10 ¹/₂ inches in height, and proficient in tap, jazz and ballet. {snip}

Of the 407 women who tried out that day, 35 made it through three rounds of cuts — including five black and two Latina dancers, the company said. {snip}


Justine Birden, a black tryout from Chicago, did not get a callback but will try again next month in her hometown. Asked why so few black women apply, she said, “I think it’s because the Rockettes are so ballet-based — it’s something you have to be trained in as a little girl and continue with it. A lot of African-Americans drop out of ballet in their teen years.”


As part of their new diversity push, the Rockettes are giving workshops from coast to coast, and teaming with African-American dance schools like Alvin Ailey in Midtown to spark interest in women who might not have otherwise considered it.