Since 1933, more than 3,000 women have danced in the world's most famous precision dance troupe, the Rockettes. But they didn't always dance in New York. After the dance company started in 1925 as the "Missouri Rockets," founder Russell Markert was invited to bring his troupe to perform opening night at New York's Radio City Music Hall.
They never left.
It wasn't until 1994 that Radio City broadened its holiday schedule to include markets outside New York. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular has since performed in cities including Atlanta, Branson, Chicago and Seattle. Buffalo is the first stop on this tour.
To ensure a full roster of dancers -- at any given time, there may be up to 200 Rockettes kicking on tours that crisscross the country -- Radio City annually holds an audition. Rockettes must be between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-10 1/2 inches tall and demonstrate proficiency in tap, jazz, ballet and modern dance. And though they may appear to be the same height on stage, the uniformity is created by arranging the dancers from short to tall, line's end to center. Their age minimum is 18. There is no maximum.
The women who star as Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular maintain a full schedule, sometimes performing four 90-minute shows a day. But what do they do for the rest of the year -- when they aren't kicking up storm?
Last year they performed on the Tony Awards, for example. And there are the national parades and corporate trade shows. Whether appearing on "Saturday Night Live" or dancing on stage with Pink or Ricky Martin, the Rockettes manage to translate their talent on many fronts. Among those appearing in Buffalo are:
Chrystie Kenny: The six-year Rockette was raised in Albany and served as studio choreographer for Royal Caribbean Productions.
Tiffany Whitaker: Grew up in Binghamton and danced with the Rockettes for eight years. A leg model and pilates instructor in her off-time, Whitaker was on the dean's list throughout college.
Danielle Kelsey: Raised in Lancaster, Pa., and was a Shandie Shaw dancer on NBC's "American Dreams."
Autumn Smith: Grew up in Orlando and danced at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland in Japan, where she climbed to the top of Mount Fuji.
Melissa Zaremba: Grew up on Long Island, where she overcame a physical handicap through dancing. Diagnosed shortly after birth with antiversion of the hips -- a condition that caused her legs to turn inward -- Zaremba had difficulty learning to walk. To learn how to walk straight, Zaremba recalls roller skating on a carpet and practicing ballet.
"As I got older, I definitely started learning how to walk straight," Zaremba said. "But by that point I really had just fallen in love with dancing, so I continued with it through the rest of my life."