It’s been 34 years since trailblazer Jennifer Jones kicked away the apartheid-like practice of barring African-American dancers from performing with a line of white Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
Although it seems like a millennium ago, her perseverance in joining the prestigious precision troupe erased a tradition which began in 1932 ending five and half decades later to dispel the notion that if included people of color would be a distraction from the attraction.
Since Jones’ pioneering debut, a steady stream of African-Americans successfully auditioned to now number seven females among 80 eye-high kickers gracing the 2021 parade of spectacular dancers.
They represent the diversity of New York City and provide the most alluring theatrical Christmas presentation in the USA.
Actually, two casts of 36 dancers are featured at each showcase. And four substitutes are at the ready to fill in when necessary.
The last time yours truly attended the annual opening night feature, a lingering pandemic hovered in 2019.
Accompanied by a pair of little Black girls, from the closely positioned vantage seating, I felt compelled to seek and detect the four Black women among the elite troupe. Like a game my guests and I searched past 36 faces, toned bodies and glittering outfits to find the chosen few.
There was no distraction.
No longer a game of seek and find, this year, a septet includes 35-year-old Danelle Morgan who is enjoying her 15th year with the Rockettes.
A native of Highland Park, New Jersey, the veteran Rockette is also regaled for being distinguished as a dance captain for the second season.
Morgan proved her mettle from an early age and by 16 years old she was enrolled at the Alvin Ailey School of Dance.
That for more than a decade and a half she has shattered the antiquated mind-set which deprived others from showcasing the diversity of this city provides fodder for aspiring Black girls yearning to join the 80-member elite dance troupe.
Like her fellow kickers, Morgan has aced changing eight costume changes during each showcase.
Seemingly in a blink of the eye, the cast exits and re-emerges outfitted in one after another stunning costume. Allegedly, one of those costume change clocks 78 seconds from start to finish.
That’s enough to gasps over.
Morgan has performed for President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Saturday Night Live, The Today Show, America’s Got talent, The Tony Award and a myriad of variety television shows.
Last year when the coronavirus forced the first-ever cancellation of the iconic spectacular, Morgan went into virtual alternative mode. She offered free, live dance lessons on the Instagram page. Dance enthusiasts were able to relish the choreography and magnificence involved in presenting the favorite holiday-themed attraction tourists and residents annually rave.
They include the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” “New York at Christmas” and “Christmas Dream.”
“With everything going on in the world …, it became apparent that we needed to throw a little holiday spirit into the social media world,” Morgan said.
She described the experience as “rewarding.”
Adding that “despite not having the Christmas show,” the cast was able to “bring some holiday cheer and joy to our fans.”
“If at the end of the class, people are left feeling connected and uplifted, then I feel like it was a job well done — and I’m grateful for that.”
This year’s Holiday Spectacular opened two weeks ago to enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation which continued through the usual two collaborating organ music finale.
The Rockettes were cheered each time they kicked, turned or danced to the cadence of the orchestra.
Spoiler alert: for most of the showcase, the orchestra remains beneath the 100 feet stage and only on occasion emerge in view.
Children of every age seems entranced by the spectacle of the Christmas treat.
It’s quite challenging to choose which segment brings the most joy. As heads turn 360 degrees to look up and around the acoustically-perfect music hall, Santa Claus gets his share too.
He’s abundantly delightful, live and in 3-D.
With no apologies for absence of objectivity, the annual never gets old, its spectacular.
Meet the colorful cast — Maya Addie is making her debut as a Rockette. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, she grew up in Mesa, Arizona. Together with her family she moved to Columbus, Ohio a few years ago.
Also making 2021 her premiere season with the Rockettes is JoJo Carmichael who hails from Dothan, Alabama. Alexis Payton is another first season Rockette. She hails from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Alicia Lundgren has been with the company for seven seasons. She is originally from Oakland, California.
LaTarika Pierce traveled across the river to audition, she is from Orange, New Jersey and proudly enjoying her second season as a Radio City Rockette.
Three’s a charm and Jacie Scott from Monroe, Louisiana is in her third season.
The rainbow Spectacular ends on Jan. 2.
Catch You On The Inside!