Rockettes’ Lack Of Black Dancers Uncovered: All-White Cast Was Artistically Desirable Until The Late 80s

The Rockettes were late in the game when it came to diversity. Although the dance troupe now has a few black dancers, it wasn’t that way until decades after segregation was outlawed and equal employment opportunities were the social norm. It’s been uncovered by Mediate that a New York Times article published almost 30 years ago reported on the lack of black performers within the Rockettes cast.

According to the 1987 New York Times article titled “Rockettes and Race: Barriers Slip” by Bruce Lambert, the dance troupe noticeably rejected having anything other than a white cast — with the exception of one Japanese dancer who’d been dancing with them for over a year. When a black dancer was asked to audition for the production as an on-call dancer for the Super Bowl, Lambert wrote that “the color barrier in what is perhaps the world’s most famous chorus line is beginning to fall.”

Just prior to the audition, another black dancer had appeared in a “West Coast edition of the Rockettes.” The Rockettes lack of diversity was called out by civil rights officials as shocking given its “visible symbol of a multiracial city.”

”They stayed lily white all these years – in New York City, of all places,” said Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York State chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. ”When I hear ‘White Christmas,’ to me it doesn’t mean Caucasian Christmas – it means American Christmas.”

The Rockettes’ was formed 92 years ago by Russell Markert, who imposed strict color uniformity within the cast. He “even forbade suntans for a white dancer because it would ‘make her look like a colored girl.'”

Violet Holmes was the director of the Rockettes in the 80s, and defended the all-white cast because it was artistically necessary. The dancers were intended to be “mirror images” of each other.

“One or two black girls in the line would definitely distract. You would lose the whole look of precision, which is the hallmark of the Rockettes,” Holmes said.

The Rockettes came under new ownership in 1979 after Rockefeller Group Inc. started Radio City Music Hall Productions. Helene Greece, the company’s spokeswoman, said the production didn’t see lack of black dancers as an “issue” because they were an “equal opportunity employer.” She noted that the company’s other dance groups have “long been integrated.” She ended by saying the “only thing we want are the best dancers.”

Scare job openings were one of the justifications for the Rockettes lacking a more diverse group of dancers. The production held a rare audition in October 1987 and ads were placed in black, Hispanic, and Asian publications encouraging minorities to audition. Greece said of the 221 dancers who auditioned, only 23 were selected and one was black. She said there wasn’t a dossier kept of minority dancers who tried out.

When the Rockettes began adding minorities to the cast in the 80s, Enoch H. Williams, chairman of the City Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucus, called the change “long overdue.”

‘The Rockettes have been white ever since I was a kid,” Williams said. “It’s a shame that a great institution like Radio City wasn’t out in front, instead of dragging the dog’s tail. It shows how archaic their thinking is.”

Many heading Human Rights and minority groups thought it was strange that the Rockettes didn’t more accurately reflect the culture of New York City and the rest of the nation. The dance troupe has is by far more diverse than it was 30 years ago.

The Rockettes will perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

[Featured Image by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images]

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