The Rockettes: “One of the Most Racist Organizations in American Entertainment”

The Rockettes Dancing at Radio City Music Hall
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The Rockettes are currently locked in a battle against Donald Trump, with members refusing to participate in his upcoming Inauguration.  But who’s the real racist here?  Now, some very ugly skeletons are coming out of the closet on this organization.

The Rockettes: they’re as American as apple pie, baseball, and the 4th of July.  But that squeaky clean image has a pretty dirty history.  And according to critics speaking with Digital Music News, this is an organization with a long — and very recent — history of extreme racism against non-white dancers.

How recent?  According to details shared with Digital Music News, the Rockettes refused to allow any dancers of color into their organization until the late-80s.  That is, the 1980s.  In other words, the definition of hiring exclusion based on color, i.e., flat-out racism as strictly defined.

The allegation, from two different readers, sounded implausible at first.  But it’s published fact, and widely known.  In fact, this was probably the easiest fact-check imaginable.  In 1983, the New York Times noted that the Rockettes had a stated, above-board policy of excluding any black (or any non-white) dancers.

“The shapely legs best known on the famous [Radio City Music Hall] stage — over 5,000 pairs since the Rockettes began in 1932 — are all white,” Times writers Laurie Johnston and Susan Heller Anderson shared.  “The chorus line has never been integrated because, as Violet Holmes, its director and choreographer, has maintained in the past, blacks would ‘distract’ from ‘the look of precision,’ the Rockettes’ trademark.”

Author Daniel Okrent also discussed the policy in his 2003 book, The Epic of Rockefeller Center.  “The book also has a light touch — too light —  with the most unsettling parts of the story,” New York Times critic Adam Cohen writes.

“Black employees were largely unwelcome at Rockefeller Center — in the case of the Rockettes until as recently as 1987.”

Viewed from another (legal) perspective, this is an organization that blatantly violated both federal and state laws against racial discrimination in the workplace.  And they did it for more than twenty years.  That would include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and similarly-enacted statutes for the State of New York.

“No decision affecting hiring, promotion, firing or a term, condition or privilege of employment shall discriminate on the basis of a person’s race or color, nor shall employees be harassed or otherwise discriminated against on such basis, or perceived basis.”

State of New York Employment Law.

Perhaps under legal, social, or ethical pressure, the Rockettes finally changed their policies in 1987.  By 1988, the organization welcomed their first black dancer, Jennifer Jones.  But Jones was quickly sent into a different sort of ‘specialized’ role: “Jennifer Jones, 20, of New Jersey, will join the Rockettes dancers in the upcoming Super Bowl,” Jet magazine reported in January of 1988,  under the title, “First Black Rockette”.  “She will perform a tap-dance and ‘twist’ number with R&B performer Chubby Checker.  Jones will be called in whenever there’s a vacancy in the Rockettes line.”

We’ll leave it at that.

‘One of the most racist organizations in American entertainment history…’

That history certainly casts the Rockettes’ current battles against Donald Trump in a different light.  After Madison Square Garden Company executive chairman James Dolan committed the group to perform at Trump’s upcoming Inauguration, a number of dancers publicly protested the forced decision.  A recent dancer told Marie Claire that she’d rather lose her job than perform for the President-Elect.  “If I had to lose my job over this, I would.  It’s too important.  And I think the rest of the performing arts community would happily stand behind me.”

Rockettes Dancer ‘In Tears’ After Being Forced to Perform Trump’s Inauguration

The report noted that numerous dancers were ‘crying’ through their pre-Christmas shows, with Trump viewed as a sexist, racist ‘monster’.  Others have reportedly dropped out, with a small group agreeing to perform.  In-between, in-fighting has also emerged between active dancers and alums, with many taking sides.

According to one source to Digital Music News, all of that wreaks of hypocrisy.  “All I can say is you have one of the most racist organizations in American entertainment calling Donald Trump a sexist, a racist, everything in the book,” one DMN reader, a black woman, remarked.  “I’m not taking sides on that one, okay?  But I’m not sure which is worse.”

Actually, there is an open question of whether enough Rockettes will show up to the Inauguration.  If the numbers are too slim, the famous lineup simply doesn’t make sense.  Then again, neither does this group’s historical policies on race.


The Rockettes, who have mostly refused media requests after the Inauguration commitment, have not responded to ours.

Top image by Ralph Daily (CC by 2.0).


20 Responses

    • Paul Resnikoff

      It’s funny. Half the comments about my Presidential choice say I’m anti-Trump, the other half pro-Trump. I’ll just say, I voted.

  1. danwriter

    By this logic, just about every organization could be morally excluded from participating, including the US military, which was not officially desegregated until 1948, and public schools, whose official desegregation ostensibly began in 1954 (Brown v Bd of Education). Practically speaking, both of those entities continue to experience (and to some extent practice) racial discrimination. As an organization, the Rockettes were likely no more nor less discriminatory than other institutions at the time. They also continue to maintain weight and height requirements.

    • Confused

      Yes but this is a lot more recent. It made me sad when I saw the macy’s Parade and they only had 2 women of color performing. They may as well just have them there so they can say “we’re not racist look at our two black women.” Yet they don’t have anyone Middle eastern, Mediterranean, or Asian. Which shows that they are still discriminatory to this day. Also, they revoked their policy on racial discrimination in the 80s, not the 40s or the 50s. Racism had declined exponentially In the time leading up to the 80s (even though it was present, and is still present), and the fact that they currently choose to perform with two black women shows us that justifying their actions with the time period in which they revoked their policy is just pointless.

      • Tina

        Yes, knowing how racist the Rockette Company is, I was shocked to see 2 Black women dancing for them during the parade. And more thinking well it’s pass over due.

      • Tavia

        Thank you and well put! The statement by Dancewriter is just about ridiculous to say. The 40’s is a totally different time from 1987 was 33 years ago not 75 years ago when blacks had absolutely no rights to do anything in this country much less other nationalities. That is way to recent. White privilege allows people to make comments like this and feel they are arguing a great point.

  2. Shit Boy

    Donald Trump is the microcosmic split between old America and new America. He’s probably the last 21st century legitimate effort to uplift white supremacy laws throughout the world stage. It’s not all that shocking that America has a ‘ President ‘ that ushered in the new year by ragging on all his natural enemies like more than half of America while simultaneously embracing , Putin , and all of Russia without no patriotic conscience whatsoever. . . ? :: Thank you , this has been your daily , Shit Boy Shine !

  3. Versus

    Just thinking off-the-cuff:
    Does this, as an arts or entertainment organization, have the right to select people based on appearance or not? After all, the aesthetic is presumably for tall (height-ism), female (sexism), attractive (looks-ism), fit (health-ism), young (ageism), etc.

    Where do we draw the line?
    What if someone wanted to have an all-white, all-black or all-Asian (etc.) dance company, whether for historic reasons of accuracy, narrative reasons, or just seeking a certain visual effect?

    Just putting the question out there; do not have a clear answer on this myself. I just don’t think it’s so “black and white”.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      It’s a reasonable point. For example, you would not cast a blonde Norwegian as one of the heroines in ‘Hidden Figures,’ for obvious reasons. Is that racism? No.

      But is excluding black dancers from the Rockettes because it doesn’t match the ‘aesthetic’ count? Now I think you’ve entered into some dangerous territory.

  4. Derk Gently

    Well if you’re talking about stuff from the 80s most of the current line up wouldn’t even have been born then. Blaming them for the company’s previous racism when they are now standing up to it seems a bit rich. They are defying their management on this.

  5. Renee'

    Maybe they don’t want to go because of his treatment of all women, black or white! He brags about groping women without permission. He brags about going into the dressing rooms of his beauty pageants. Maybe they just ‘t want to be ogled by a dirty old man who can’t control his hands any better than he can control his mouth.

  6. Tom

    So, have the Rockettes admitted any transgender men to their team? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    • Georgia

      Women who are trangender are trans women. Its in the phrase, sweetie

  7. patrick

    This article misses the mark for me because of its weird hypocrisy angle. I do believe that the Rockettes are a racist organization and my quest for info on the topic (after realizing I hadn’t seen any black Rockettes in their Christmas show) is what led me here to bein with.

    However, surely Trump’s brazen misogyny is at the core of most of the Rockettes’ (i.e. the individual women’s) uncomfortableness in performing for him. To conflate both issues… to suggest that because The Rockettes as an organization is racist… that the individual dancers should suck it up and perform for an outspoken misogynist… seems like incredibly sloppy logic. And is that what the article is even suggesting? Or is it basically just saying, “some of the Rockettes think Trump is bad but the organization they work for is also bad.”

    The hypocrisy angle doesn’t work because the dancers (more than likely) aren’t protesting Trump for his racism but for his comments and actions toward women. Trump just also happens to be racist.

  8. Dancerwithtears

    I’m a white woman who supports President Trump’s and although it is a different subject I hate that there are black women dancing in the Radio City Rockettes. It’s hard to be mesmerized by the beauty and percision of the dance when therefore these ugly black women shaking there butts. They can’t match the other much better white dancers. What a disappointment. Two thumbs down.

    • Trump

      WOW! For the comments written by Damcerswithtears you sure are an angry White Peckerwood!