ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- One of the most well-known dance groups in the country is the New York City Rockettes, but the city they are associated with is not the city that created them. The team first formed with 16 original dancers in St. Louis back in 1925.

Back then they called themselves the Missouri Rockets, under the direction and guidance of their founder and choreographer, Russell Markert. 

Carolyn Grayson

Carolyn Grayson

Sharon Smith and Emily Jaycox with the Missouri Historical Society did in-depth research to recover very little documented history of the original Missouri Rockets. In their archives, they found newspaper articles, images and mentions of the team's performances at the Missouri Theatre in city entertainment guidebooks.

One article Smith found highlighted Maxine Demmler Schmidt as the oldest living Missouri Rocket. She was 99 years old back in 2006. Smith also found many of their girls' names in the Muny Theatre's archives as former ensemble dancers back in the 1920s. All of their performances as the Muny Theatre end after 1925, when the Missouri Rockets was formed.

Back then, the Missouri Rockets were between 5’2″and 5’6 ½”, but today, a New York City Rockette is between 5’6″and 5’10 ½.” Also the original 16 women has now grown to a line of 36 dancers.

Today, the building that was once the Missouri Theatre, where the Rockets performed, still stands. It is now the Angad Arts Hotel, which recently opened in November 2018. It is located in Grand Center, across from the Fox Theatre and next door to Powell Hall. 

"A lot of the large buildings and venues were developed as part of the Vaudeville era," said Jaycox. 

Grayson and Hall

Aspiring Rockette Carolyn Grayson and rockette Kayla Hall.

The 16 Missouri Rockets were such an instant hit back in the 20s that a talent scout in New York City named S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel pleaded with Markert to form another line in NYC. The team moved there and that's when they achieved notoriety and the fame they have today.

However, St. Louis women are still keeping the tradition of being part of this iconic dance line. 

Right now, Carolyn Grayson is a senior in high school and currently training at the Professional Dance Center in south St. Louis County. She has plans to audition to be a Rockette after she graduates college.

"Ever since I've been a little girl, I've always dreamed of being a Rockette," said Grayson. 

It is the humble beginnings of this synchronized team that Grayson connects with the most.

"I think it would be such an honor to perform with a team that is from my hometown," said Grayson.

The future of this team is learning from the team's past. Grayson's dance teacher is Kayla Hall, a St. Louis native who performed on the Rockettes for three years.

"I don't think I really understood the legacy and history in St. Louis and how great St. Louis really is until I was standing on the stage as a Radio City Rockette," said Hall. 

Grayson went to go see Hall perform as a Rockette in 2011 and the two took a picture together after the show.

"Having her look up to me and now being her teacher, and knowing that's what she wants to do, it's just all the more special," said Hall. 

You can have the chance to feel like a Rockette or Missouri Rocket this summer by participating in the world's longest "Chorus Line." The Missouri History Museum is hoping to break the Guinness World Record by creating a chorus line of more than 2,000 people.

The chorus line will go from the Missouri History Museum to the Muny Theatre on Saturday, May 4 at 9 a.m. No talent is required and it's $7 to participate. You can register as an individual or a group by clicking here. 

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

News 4 Reporter

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