Jennifer Jones was the first African American woman to join the famous Rockettes chorus line. Jones joined the legendary dancers in 1988.
A native of New Jersey, Jones started dancing at 10 years old. She was unfamiliar with the Rockettes until she saw an ad in Backstage Magazine. She was encouraged by friends to audition.
Prior to that year, blacks were not allowed in the East Coast group. It was said that they would distract from the groups’ uniformed look. Even Jones was first chosen as an alternate. Only in 1981, the west coast version of The Rockettes featured a black dancer on their line.
Even when the group was created, its founder, Russell Markert, forbid the dancers to suntan so as to not appear to be “colored.” In 1982, Violet Holmes, the organization’s then director, stated “One or two black girls in the line would definitely distract. You would lose the whole look of precision, which is the hallmark of the Rockettes.” The statement has since been revised publicly and they hold to the idea that the Rockettes are equal opportunity employers.
Jones made her debut during the Superbowl halftime show on January 31, 1988. She was chosen out of 221 women who auditioned for the rare opening on the line. Out of the 23 women who were lined up for a future spot on the team, only one was black. This is even after they ran an ad in minority newspapers encouraging people to come to try-outs. Shortly after her performance, the west coast version of The Rockettes hired an African American dancer.
Jennifer Jones paved the way for other black Rockettes like Nirine S. Brown, a former Alvin Ailey Dance Academy student who was chosen in 2004.
Watch video of the Rockettes perform at the 1988 Superbowl Half Time Show below.