Can the Radio City Rockettes be revolutionary?
The Rockettes have long been revered as a glorified group of long-legged eye-candy, but recent changes to their traditional dance numbers claim to be challenging the show’s status quo.
A recent New York Times piece “Rockettes: Rebooted for a New Era” highlights an attempted shift in the theme of the famed showcase and the function of its illustrious Rockettes.
Linda Haberman, who took over the show in 2006 as lead choreographer, believes she has been taking progressive strides to rejuvenate and modernize the showcase. Her goal is to fit the changing cultural climate that encourages female empowerment and to highlight the dancers’ talent. Hmm, that’s up for debate.
Sure, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a well-loved and time-honored tradition for many. With 80 years of performances, the Rockettes have popularized this annual holiday show with their sky-high, synchronized kick line. Having made their debut at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1957, the precision dance troupe that performs like a well-oiled machine has become an American institution.
The token high-kicks still abound, and the string of lifted limbs orbiting the stage in perfect synchrony is plentiful, of course. But this new twist to the “Christmas Spectacular” boasts reinvention. New storylines include a mother and daughter collaboration to defeat a villain, pushing empowerment. This particular number replaces one in which the Rockettes are infantilized, by being turned into cute, cavorting Raggedy Ann dolls.
In another number, stilettos are swapped for combat boots in a techie twist, employing 3-D technology and transforming the performance into a video game-esque sequence. The girls strut about on stage in armored attire, military precision intact, brandishing swords and side-kicks.
While the efforts of this remodernization do appear to be skewed towards marketing objectives (“More people will see the show if we seem modern!”), the obvious implications and reverberations of the change are welcome.
The push for empowerment versus viewing pleasure is definitely a positive step away from the old. However, any increases in the diversity of body types, genders, races, or ethnicities represented in the troupe remains to be seen.
There is no denying that the Radio City Music Hall showcases impressive performers. There is talent and effort required to be a Rockette: Mastering the practice of precision kicking and tireless training, coupled with the physical stressors, is no easy job.
The changes in storyline and thematic elements are certainly welcome, but they do not eclipse the reality that this enterprise is inherently structured around and capitalizes on female appearance, placing a premium on physical “beauty”. This continues to encourage the one-size-fits all standard of grace, beauty, and desirability, ignoring the importance of featuring a variety of bodies.
A true reboot surely requires more than a wardrobe upgrade and trippy technotronics. How much reformation can we really expect from a tradition that was built on revering women for their physical appearance and ability to conform?