When you think of the holidays in New York, who doesn’t imagine a long line of leggy ladies high-kicking it?
The world-famous Rockettes have been kicking up their heels for more than 85 years — that’s longer than Radio City Music Hall, where they perform their holiday show every year.
The famous troupe again will bring that New York holiday spirit to Tampa when it shows off its moves during in an all new production of the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” at the Straz Center from Thursday through Dec. 29, with new scenes, glamorous costumes, visual effects and, of course, precision choreography.
But before they tap across the Straz stage, we offer you a look at the squad’s rich history and some surprising tidbits about the Christmas Spectacular.
In 1885, Englishman John Tiller introduces a line of chorus girls with uniform height and weight, dancing in precision, forming straight lines and geometric shapes. Tillman discovers that if the girls link their arms around each other’s waists, it enables them to work together to improve precision. Tillman brought his dancers to Paris’ Folies Bergere to perform the “Pony Kick,” a precursor to the Rockettes’ eye-high kicks.
After seeing the Tiller girls perform in The Ziegfield Follies, choreographer Russell Markert formed a dance company in St. Louis in 1925 known as The Missouri Rockets, forerunners to The Rockettes.
In 1927, Samuel Roxy Rothafel renames the dancers the “Roxyettes” and brings them to New York City to perform at his theater The Roxy.
On Dec. 27, 1931, at the opening of the Radio City Music Hall, the “Roxyettes” shared the stage with the Flying Wallendas, actor Ray Bolger and legendary dancer Martha Graham
In 1933, Radio City Music Hall hosted its first Christmas Spectacular show featuring the newly named Rockettes, and the holiday tradition of the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” was born. The show included “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity,” which are still performed in the annual show.
The Rockettes’ first trip to Tampa to perform the Christmas Spectacular was in 2003.
It takes a cast and crew of more than 100 people to stage each performance of the Christmas Spectacular. The cast rehearses for three weeks before the first show.
The Christmas Spectacular cast of 47 includes 20 Rockettes (18 plus two swings, or subs), 14 singers and dancers, two children, and one Santa Claus.
More than 300 colorful, exclusively designed costumes and 200 hats are used in the show.
The double-decker bus seen in the brand new “New York at Christmas” performance weighs 7 tons and is 34 feet long and 12 feet high. During the three-week run, it will travel approximately 14 miles on stage.
Wardrobe will use more than 3,000 red paper dots per season to brighten the cheeks of the Rockettes during the “Rag Doll” and “Wooden Soldier” numbers.
Among the Rockettes, chorus and Santa, more than 1,200 pairs of shoes are worn per show.
The Rockettes perform 300 kicks per show. That’s 10,800 kicks during their 36 performances in Tampa.
When the Rockettes form the kickline, every kick must be eye-high.
A Rockette must be 5-foot-6’ to 5-foot-101⁄2 (in stocking feet) and at least 18 years of age. You cannot age out of the Rockettes — they aren’t Menudo.
Sixteen teddy bears star in “Teddy Bear’s Dream,” the production’s tribute to Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcraker.” It features dancing polar, panda, Arabian and Russian bears in a variety of sizes. Each bear costume weights between 30 and 60 pounds.
Choreographer Markert worked with the Rockettes until he retired in 1971.
In 1994, the Christmas Spectacular went on the road for the first time, taking the New York holiday tradition to cities across North America.
In 2007, the Christmas Spectacular celebrated its 75th anniversary year of performances at Radio City Music Hall.
In 2012, the Rockettes were honored in their 85th celebration of coming to New York City and making Radio City Music Hall their permanent residency.