Tis the season for the Follies–Rockettes in Rockford and Chicago

Tis the season for the Follies–Rockettes in Rockford and Chicago


Here’s a present for you. Rockford has our own Radio City Music Hall Rockette—Kathy Nelson, and she wants you to go see the Radio City Music Spectacular in Rosemont.

Many Rockford area residents know Nelson as the owner and instructor of the Kathy Nelson School of Dance at 915-1/2 E. State Street.

Nelson, a native of Rockford, then Kathy Westlund, danced with the world-famous Radio City Rockettes in the summers of 1970, ’71 and ’73. For four shows a day, seven days a week, Westlund-Nelson danced and kicked into the hearts of thousands as part of the nation’s most beloved precision dance troupe. In that time, the Rockettes provided entertainment in between motion pictures, making the Radio City Music Hall a venue for non-stop entertainment.

Westlund-Nelson began dancing at the age of six. When she was 10, her mother took her to New York City, the first time she would ever see the Rockettes perform. The thrill of dancing on the Great Stage in front of 6,000 people fascinated her, and would be an intrigue that stuck with her for years after. In April 1969, the year after she graduated from high school, Westlund-Nelson auditioned for the Rockettes. Her audition for founder Russell Markert went well, but a waiting list kept her from making the cut. She returned to junior college in Rockford, but made the trip back to New York the following April and auditioned for Markert once again. This time, she made it, and began her first of three summers as a Rockette.

What was it like to be a Rockette in the early ’70s? When Westlund-Nelson worked at Radio City, there was a ballet company, a cafeteria and a dormitory. By 1973, these were all closed down. For three to four weeks at a time, the troupe performed each day, four shows a day, and then got a week off. Though challenging and wearing, the thrill of living a dream made the hard work worth every minute.

On August 8, Westlund-Nelson and Darla Bradle, also from Rockford, traveled to New York to participate in the 75th anniversary celebration of the Rockettes, a grand affair joining past and present members of the troupe. Bradle was a Rockette in the 1960s

“It was quite an experience to go back, after 30 years.” said Nelson. “We were able to dance as Rockettes, briefly. We all lined up and did a little mini-strut routine. We were introduced as Rockettes, once again. That was pretty heartwarming. We met up with people we hadn’t seen in anywhere from 15 to 30 years, and we all looked great, by the way.”

Nelson was obviously honored by the invitation. “They treated us like royalty. They hosted a cocktail party for us, Radio City entertainment, that night in the grand foyer of the Music Hall. They took a photograph of all of us, including the current Rockettes. We lined up in decades, starting with the ’30s, all the way through current. That took a while. Have you ever tried to shut up 300 women? That was tough,” she laughed.

“We paraded out in front of the marquee on Sixth Avenue and danced to ‘New York, New York.’ They introduced the three oldest Rockettes, and they were probably in their nineties,” she said.

As a Rockette alumnus, she is now sharing her experiences at her own dance studio. Westlund-Nelson is married with two adult children, a son and daughter, who both grew up dancing. She still participates in recitals, and says she is honored to bring the art of dance into other people’s lives each day.

She still avidly supports the Rockettes and even brought a Rockette, Corrinna Lindholm, to Rockford to help advocate their mutual vocation.

Starring in the Chicago

production of Radio City Rockettes

Corinna Lindholm is a Chicago native and resident of Palatine, Ill. She has been dancing with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular since the production began in Chicago five years ago.

She was selected for as one of the company out of approximately 150 women who auditioned. Every spring, the Rockettes run a “15-city audition tour,” said Lindholm.

She has performed with the Radio City Rockettes at New York City’s famous Radio City Music Hall for numerous other shows year-round. She is thrilled to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Rockettes and the fifth anniversary of the Christmas Spectacular in Chicago.

A graduate of the Chicago Academy for the Arts, Lindholm has built an impressive résumé as a dancer, actor, choreographer and model. She has performed in the premieres of Disney’s Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules and Mulan, and has choreographed Disney’s Festival of Lights for the last five years. Her training includes instruction under Twyla Tharp, Lou Conte of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Gus Giordano.

In Rockford and traveling the area to promote the Rockettes’ 75th anniversary, she met with Nelson for several sessions.

“I’ve met with a lot of the alumni Rockettes across the county. I find that when you sit down and talk with these women, we have so much in common just because there are so many things that are the same today about being a Rockette. And then there are a few things that are different, too. So we compare stories and share notes. It’s interesting to have those conversations. There’s an instant bond there just because you’ve both been a Rockette.”

Nelson brought 30 of her students to a “The Rockette Experience” a two-hour master class program “where Rockettes go out and teach a little bit of the Christmas show and a little bit of what it’s like to be a Rockette,” Lindholm said.

The class was held at West Liden High School, the Rockette rehearsal hall in Chicago.

The Christmas spectacular can be seen in Atlanta, Branson, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Nashville, Chicago and of course, New York. New York has 36 dancers in the line, and the other cities have 18, plus two alternates. There are more than 200 Rockettes nation-wide.

“The best thing about being a Rockette today is just being part of so much tradition. There’s not very many things that have been around for 75 years. It’s exciting to be a part of one of them. In addition, this is one of the best positions to be in as a dancer. My husband will joke that he goes out and tells people I’m a dancer, and they have no idea what that is. But when he says Radio City Music Hall Rockette, everybody knows what that is. It’s just such an honor to be a part of it,” she said.

Production celebrates 5th year in Chicago

Five Golden Rings in Rosemont, Illinois! With dancing teddy bears, parading wooden soldiers and high-kicking Rockettes, The Radio City Music Spectacular will celebrate its fifth fabulous year in Chicago this holiday season. 2001 also marks the 75th anniversary of the world-famous Radio City Rockettes. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular runs at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 River Rd. through Dec. 29.

For more than three-quarters of a century, the Radio City Rockettes, the world’s most famous precision dance troupe, have been a legendary force in entertainment, with a rich history of skill and dedication to their craft. From their memorable USO tours during WWII, to show-stopping Super Bowl halftime appearances performing before television audiences of 150 million viewers, to the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade performances, to the 2001 Presidential Inauguration Ceremony, the Rockettes are a national treasure. Their annual starring role in The Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, and in other cities across the United States, is seen by more people in one year than all other live shows in America—more than 1.2 million people annually. The New York Times praises their talent by saying, “But best of all, as always, are the miraculous Rockettes in their crisp costumes, smiling and tapping their way flawlessly everywhere.”

This year the Radio City Rockettes will celebrate 75 years of eye-high kicks and precision dance with the same enthusiasm and vigor that has become their trademark. The overwhelming appeal of the world’s most beloved dance company continues to grow with each holiday season. The New York Times also says, “The Rockettes are as precise and talented as ever, and their bright smiles and unison dancing evoke cheers and applause in old favorites like ‘The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.’ The Rockettes look forward to embracing another 75 years of producing the best live entertainment spectacular in the nation.

In the beginning

The group first kicked to life in 1925 as the “Missouri Rockets” and made their show business debut in St. Louis, the realization of a long-time dream of their creator, Russell Markert.

“I had seen the John Tiller girls in the Ziegfield Follies of 1922,” Markert once reminisced. “If I ever got a chance to get a group of American girls who would be taller and have longer legs and could do really complicated tap routines and eye-high kicks—they’d knock your socks off!”

At Radio City’s opening night, on Dec. 27, 1932, they did just that. The Rockettes were discovered and brought to New York by consummate showman S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel, who first dubbed them the “Roxyettes.” On opening night, they shared the stage with 17 diverse acts, among them the Flying Wallendas, Ray Bolger and Martha Graham.

They were an instant sensation! Markert had created the qwintessential American chorus line—an exciting precision dance troupe with great style. Starting with just 16 women, the numbers grew over the years to what is now a 36-member Rockette kick line.

In 1933, Radio City featured a new movie and a lavish stage production every week starring the Rockettes. Russell Markert’s stringent requirements never varied, and he continued to stage and choreograph productions at the Music Hall until his retirement in 1971. This concept of the dance line was to achieve absolute precision. The audience saw 36 Rockettes perform intricate routines, but always moving as “one dancer.” Everything—the height, the costumes and steps—was kept completely identical. The illusion of uniform height is maintained to this day by putting the tallest dancers in the center, and gradually decreasing the height with the shortest women at either end.

Radio City ambasssadors

In addition to starring in the many Radio City Spectaculars that have made the Rockettes world famous, the dance group has also spread the magic of Radio City Music Hall far beyond New York. They’ve toured in Broadway productions such as Can Can, and with performers including Peter Allen, Liberace, Ann-Margret, Chita Rivera and Paula Abdul, among many others. They’ve danced at the premieres of Miracle on 34th Street, 101 Dalmations and the premiere engagement of Disney’s The Lion King.

Radio City Entertainment, a part of the Cablevision family of companies and managed by Madison Square Garden, is a worldwide entertainment company recognized for its signature combination of event production and entertainment marketing. Radio City Entertainment produces, presents and promotes live entertainment events for Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and the Theatre at Madison Square Garden. In addition to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Radio City Entertainment develops and produces events and attractions that appear nationally and internationally including the timeless classic, A Christmas Carol, at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden and the upcoming Radio City Carnivale Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.

Today’s Rockettes

Today, the Rockettes play an integral role in many Radio City theatrical productions, special events and television productions. They star annually in The Radio City Christmas Spectacular in New York and around the country. They’ve tapped their way through the dreams of thousands of young girls, many of whom hope to add their own legs to that world-famous kick line.

In addition to performing across North America, each year the Rockettes appear in the nationally televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, inspiring scores of young dancers nationwide. For several years, they’ve opened the Daytime Emmy Awards, broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall, and they have appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The Rockettes also performed the Grand Finale of the Presidential Inaugural Celebration earlier this year. They are even the inspiration for their own Rockette doll.

Plans are underway for the Rockettes to star in the Radio City Carnivale Spectacular, which will launch in May 2002 at the Music Hall, along with a touring production.

Tickets are now on sale for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at the Rosemont Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster locations, by calling (312) 559-1212 and at Ticketmaster.com.

The Radio City Rockettes perform with a signature precision that perpetually delights every new audience. Indeed, these “dancing daughters”—as their founder, Russell Markert always referred to them—have not only persevered for more than 75 years, but are thriving now more than ever.

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