Friday, December 15, 2023

Timeline of a Dancing Line


It's hard enough trying to formulate a timeline for an ancestor's life, without adding the ever-moving picture surrounding that life's story. Yet, to understand our ancestors a bit more deeply, exploring the life surrounding theirs is an imperative.

I've been exploring the details I can find on my own father's life from reports shared by other family members. One of those people was my own mother, who also worked in the same "show biz" world surrounding my father, and later, my brother.

Placing my mother within the timeline of the family story is somewhat challenging. Though I knew she was part of the stage show at the Roxy Theater, specifically in the precision dance line featured at the Roxy's live shows, that line has been mistakenly labeled by other, incorrect names.

Let's take yet another detour from our story to examine the timeline of that named group, and see why my mother couldn't have been part of that particular retinue. For that exercise, we need to return to the story of the Roxy's impresario, Samuel Rothafel, when he first discovered an American dance troupe known as the Missouri Rockets. Impressed, Rothafel brought the ensemble to New York City to be the featured dance team at his new movie palace, called the Roxy after his own nickname.

Naturally, Rothafel had to add his own signature touch to that addition, and the Missouri Rockets became known as the Roxyettes. By 1932, however, Rothafel parted ways with the theater now known by his own nickname, and he headed to a competing New York venue, Radio City Music Hall. Many of the Roxy's star performers followed Rothafel's move, including the Roxyettes by November of 1932.

By 1935, the Roxyettes, now at Radio City Music Hall, became known simply as the Rockettes, possibly as fallout of a legal struggle to determine who, exactly, owned the rights to the nickname Roxy. (Apparently, Rothafel's new patron at Rockefeller Center lost that battle, for the movie theater adjoining the new Radio City Music Hall, which had also been dubbed a Roxy theater, subsequently changed its name to a more germane "the Center Theater.")

Placing all this in the context of my mother's own timeline, if she arrived at the Roxy in the late 1940s, that would have been long after the Roxyettes had moved on to Radio City Music Hall. She certainly never danced with the Rockettes, themselves, so that leaves me wondering just what it was that the Roxy called their new precision dancers. Using the troupe's own timeline to match up to my mother's tenure there at the Roxy tells me I'll have to look for another name for the dance company's identity.

As for my dad's work history there, I found a few more references—but wouldn't you know it, checking those stories against the stark history of the establishment doesn't seem to add up. Before the Roxy finally shuttered its palatial doors, there had to be more to their story.

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