International Tap Dance Hall of Fame

 

The International Tap Dance Hall of Fame is the only tap dance hall of fame exclusively focused on tap dancers. It features founding and innovative

20th and 21st century professional tap dancers. With a collection of photographs, biographies, and videos, the Hall of Fame

is becoming a colorful and diverse retrospective of America's seminal tap dance personalities.

 

2019 - The Radio City Rockettes, the all-woman precision chorus line famous for performing eye-high kicks, was founded in 1925 in St. LouisMissouri. They were originally inspired by the Tiller Girls, a precision dance company of the United Kingdom established by John Tiller in the 1890s. In 1900, Tiller sent the first troupe of Tiller Girls to perform in the United States and eventually there were three lines of them working on Broadway.  In 1922, choreographer Russell Markert saw one of these troupes, the Tiller Rockets, perform in the Ziegfeld Follies and was inspired to create his own version with American dancers. “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 really knock your socks off,” Markert recalled. Indeed, the Rockettes are required to be between 5' 6" and 5' 10 1/2" tall. In kick lines, wearing high-heeled shoes, they stand with the tallest women in the middle, moving down to the shortest on the ends, which creates the illusion that they're doing everything in unison. These women have performed at New York’s Radio City Music Hall since 1932, and best known for starring in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, an annual Christmas show, and for performing annually at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. While known for their long legs and high kicks, the Rockettes are dancers trained in ballet and tap dance performing four shows a day, with more than 160 kicks per show, each show requiring eight costume changes. One of the most breathtaking dance falls dating back to 1933 involves thirty-six women who, in a nail-biting descent, collapse onto the floor like dominoes. This fall, in the grand finale of “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” is a physical act that demands abs of steel, steadfast teamwork, and infinite patience. In the center of the line, a dancer must slow the fall down, even though their weight is on top of her; with every dancer staying completely flat all the way down. And while from the audience it looks like the Rockettes link arms during those famous kick lines, they are not allowed to touch each other, only to rely on their core strength to stay upright. The Rockettes have had to endure a long history of sexism, racism, and labor inequality.  Represented by the American Guild of Variety Artists, in 1967, they won a month-long strike for better working conditions, led by American actress Penny Singleton, the first woman to head an AFL-CIO union when she was elected President of AGVA.  In August 2002, contract negotiations for the troupe's veteran members resulted in a buyout by the owners of Radio City Music Hall, leaving roughly a fourth of the veteran Rockettes with retirement-only options, and the remaining dancers the opportunity to re-audition. Long a precision line chorus of white women, the first East Asian Rockette, a Japanese-born woman named Setsuko Maruhashi, was hired in 1985. The Rockettes did not allow dark-skinned dancers into the dance line until 1987.  The justification for the policy against hiring African Americans was that they would distract from the consistent look of the dance group. The first African- American Rockette was Jennifer Jones, who made her debut in 1988. In late 2016, the Madison Square Garden Company, which manages the troupe, agreed to have the Rockettes perform at the inauguration of Donald Trump Immediately, several Rockettes dissented, including Rockette Phoebe Pearl who complained that she was being forced to perform at the inaugural against her wishes. Madison Square Garden reportedly allowed dancers to opt-out if they thought that they would feel uncomfortable performing. In December 2016, three of the thirteen full-time dancers chose to sit out the event. The company danced to a medley of Irving Berlin songs at the Inaugural Ball on the evening of January 20.

By Constance Valis Hill