New York — When Jennifer Jones saw the ad in Back Stage magazine encouraging racial minorities to try out for the Rockettes, all she could think about was what a thrill it would be to get the job with Radio City Music Hall's high-stepping precision dancers. Now she is a Rockette, and she's just beginning to realize what a door she has helped open for other black women dancers. And, of course, she couldn't wait to start training for her first performance - at the Super Bowl halftime show in San Diego this Sunday.
``I'm looking forward to meeting everybody,'' said Miss Jones in an interview. ``I'm so excited.'' About the audition, she said, ``My friends encouraged me to go because they said I had the look that the Rockettes have.''
In the 62-year history of the Rockettes, there has been only one other black dancer, who performed with the troupe's West Coast line in 1981. But since Jennifer was chosen to join the Rockettes, two other black women have become part of the Rockette line in the touring company of ``Can-Can,'' starring Chita Rivera, which was scheduled to open in Knoxville, Tenn., today.
Although the face of the Rockettes has been conspicuously white since its inception, the troupe's director, Violet Holmes, and Radio City Music Hall are solidly behind the outreach to minorities. Previously, the turnover in dancers was slow, with some women staying on for 10 years or more. There were few openings on the line, so auditions were held infrequently, and the amount of work was stable.
But the new company philosophy is to expand work opportunities, do national tours, and perform outside the United States. And, as work grows, so will the need for dancers.
Even though more than 200 dancers attended the last audition for the Rockettes, Jones says she saw only two minorities represented. There were probably more than she saw, but the numbers are still small. Nevertheless it's a start, and Jones is happy to have been one of the first:
``I feel great that I can set an example for other people to just do what they want to and not let color barriers, or sex barriers, or any kind of barrier, stop them from doing anything.''
Jones, who grew up in New Jersey and started dancing at age 10, never saw the Rockettes live until after she auditioned for the company. ``They were wonderful,'' she recalls.