"Not only do Rockettes move together while physically attached, we are also forever linked through a long tradition of precision dance," says Mary Six Rupert, a former Rockette who produced, directed, and choreographed "Forever Linked: The Early History of Precision Dance Troupes."
Rupert's educational performance is this weekend in New York City and stars Legacy 36, LLC, her troup of former Rockettes, who have presented similar history programs since 2013. Novelty acts include stilt and three-legged dancers, a duet with her five-year-old nephew, and toe tap–all sandwiched between narration. Photos and videos honor all precision dancers, including the Tiller Girls, an iconic English troop that preceded the Rockettes.
As the most famous precision group, the Rockettes have resided at Radio City Music Hall since the early 1930s, but at the time, dozens of American movie palaces had their own kicklines, similar to the team in Manhattan. Before films, beautiful women dazzled onstage and became part of each cinema's year-round brand.
Today, the Rockettes are known for their annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Unlike other precision troops, they're still going, Rupert says.
With an eye for "eye-high" kicks, "Forever Linked" reflects Rupert's own experience with the Rockettes from 1982 to 1995, when the troop favored tap and glamorous headpieces. Styles in choreography and costumes have ebbed and flowed at Radio City, she says, but the sense of teamwork remains a constant. So does the thrill of performing for 6,000 audience members with women from various backgrounds.
Mary Six Rupert. Photo courtesy of Rupert.
"I'm connected to all Rockettes of the past and present," she muses. "There are numbers all Rockettes have done, like the 'Dance of the Wooden Soldiers,' that binds us to Radio City Music Hall and a legacy of nearly 90 years. I'm lucky and privileged to be part of that. Whatever happens going forward, I'm connected to the future as well."
Rupert grew up in a dancing family in Dallas, Texas. Her mother was a dance teacher. Her brother would later dance with the American Ballet Theatre and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. While she studied ballet and voice and had a musical theater career, tap was her base. To her, it was a serious dance form that landed her a dream job at Radio City. "I never would have imagined that for myself growing up in Texas," she says. She would later go on to perform a duet at the London Palladium with Harold Nicholas of the beloved Nicholas Brothers. They became friends. "Harold was in his 70s," she remembers. "My legacy touched the end of his."
Rupert and the Legacy Dancers performing "42nd Street." Photo courtesy Legacy 36
As a tap professor at Wagner College in Staten Island, Rupert leads classes and grades academic papers on the American dance form that continues to guide her. She also developed Tap Dancing Hands Down, a form of tapping with the hands designed for students with mobility issues.
Inspired by her own background, Rupert hopes dance teachers continue to teach tap in high heels in addition to the more fashionable flat rhythm tap shoes. Also, synchronicity requires discipline and spatial awareness, the ability to guide "two chests to the right" in order to maintain formations.
"You can't stand out in precision dance," she explains. "There's nothing wrong with dancing as an individual, but precision means that a large group of different women come together to dance as one person. I love that."
If you're in Manhattan Saturday, June 9, learn more about kickline history at "Forever Linked" at 6 pm at Schimmel Center, 3 Spruce Street. Tickets are $15 for students and children and $30 for adults. To take classes with Rupert, visit her at Bridge for Dance in Manhattan.