It started with the Rockettes, a slick kick-line of long-legged dancers who performed precision movements at New York City's plushest movie palace, Radio City Music Hall. Then it was the scantily clad glitz-and-glamour showgirls of Vegas.
Now we have the Rockerettes, an unlikely ensemble of senior citizens who shimmy, shake and tap their toes in unison. This far-from-over-the-hill gang of hoofers, led by Joan Settle, is also known as the Las Vegas Girls of North County, and its members show no sign of losing their verve.
During 12 years at the helm of the Rockerettes, founder Settle has learned a thing or two about leading a dance troupe culled from the ranks of Social Security.
"If you don't use 'em, you'll lose 'em," the spunky show-biz veteran said. Three of Settle's "girls" are octogenarians, and the spring chick in the company is over 60. Settle herself is pushing 78. But age doesn't interfere with the activities of the Rockerettes.
"We haven't had any accidents," Settle said. "I'm the only one who's ever been injured--I hurt my knee."
"What we do is not real strenuous stuff," she said. "We do kicks, but they're only hip high. I work the girls pretty hard, but when they need to rest, they can always stop. I don't push them."
Settle said she has been in show business most of her life. "I toured in the road company of 'Desert Song' way back when. I was teaching an aerobics class in our mobile home park (in Vista), and we decided, why not put our routines together and perform?"
The rest may not make show business history, but it has made Settle and her 10-member troupe a red-hot number on the local touring circuit--especially with other members of the senior set.
"Most of the women had never danced before," Settle said. "But we practice three or four hours a week, and we've been together so long they're really very good. We do chorus line kicks, that kind of thing. We do a complete variety show--tap-dancing, the cancan, soft shoe--about 16 numbers in all."
The majority of the Rockerettes may be late bloomers, but there is one seasoned trouper in their midst: 62-year-old Gerry O'Dwyer, a former member of the Radio City Rockettes.
"That was a long time ago," O'Dwyer said. "I danced with the Rockettes from 1948 to 1953--until I got married--and I loved every minute of it. We did four shows a day, seven days a week in those days (with one week off every month), and we were punchy at the end. But I would have paid to work there. We really had precision, because you did it over and over. And it was always corrected."
The Rockerettes may not deliver drill-team precision, but the group does focus on the same style of dancing. And it comes close to replicating the lavish costumes seen on big-time stages.
"We don't do too many high kicks, but we do line work, and the costumes are just beautiful," O'Dwyer said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be performing again like this. But then I found Joan 2 1/2 years ago, and it's like I died and went to heaven."
Most of the audiences for the Rockerettes are seniors themselves. The troupe is accustomed to getting a rousing response, Settle said, and it was a hit on TV's "PM Magazine." They show up regularly on public broadcasting's KOCT-TV in Oceanside as well. The station uses a Rockerettes video two to three times a week and all during December with a Christmas show.
"We all love our work," Settle said, "and everyone says we look like we're enjoying it."
Added O'Dwyer: "We're still little old ladies, but we're a good group."
Additional information on the Rockerettes is available from Joan Settle, 726-3566.