Tiller Girls

Tiller Girls

The Tiller Girls were among the most popular dance troupes of the 1900s, first formed by John Tiller in Manchester, England, in 1890. Whilst on visits to the theatre, Tiller had noticed the overall effect of a chorus of dancers was often spoiled by lack of discipline. Tiller found that by linking arms the dancers could dance as one; he is credited with inventing precision dance. Possibly most famous for their high-kicking routines, the Tiller Girls were highly trained and precise.

John Tiller's first dancers performed as The Four Sunbeams in 1886. He originally formed the group for a show at the old Pavilion Theatre Blackpool, and from this were founded the Tiller School of dancing and the Tiller Girl troupes. The number of troupes grew to dozens and their fame spread around the world. The troupes were all slightly different, but within each troupe the girls were matched very precisely for height and weight. Individuality within the troupes was discouraged in favour of a strong group ethic. The Tillers performed as resident dancers at the Follies Bergère in Paris, the London Palladium, the Palace Theatres in Manchester and in London (as the Palace Girls), the Blackpool Winter Gardens, on New York's Broadway, where John Tiller had a dance school, and at hundreds of other theatres over the British Isles, the Continent and the United States.

Tiller routines and line-ups

Basically they do what is called a 'Tap and Kick' routine, which was originally called "Fancy-Dancing" but today is known as 'Precision Dancing'. The routines may consist of straight lines or geometric figures. Every tap and kick troupe has tried to steer away from Tiller's arrangements, but sooner or later conforms to Tillers methods.

Kracauer stated in 1923 'These 76 energetic women dance about in geometric shapes: "The regularity of their patterns is cheered by the masses, themselves arranged by the stands in tier upon ordered tier'.

In certain shows a Tiller line-up could be as many as 32 girls who were selected for uniform height and weight. In 1923 the Stage play Nifties of 1923 feature the twelve Tiller Girls

The Radio City Rockettes Connection

Russell Markert, founder of the Rockettes quoted;

"I had seen the Tiller girls in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1922," he reminisced, "If I ever got a chance to get a group of American girls who would be taller and have longer legs and could do really complicated tap routines and eye-high kicks, they'd knock your socks off!"

Many a Tiller girl would be a little offended at this remark as many of the Tiller Ballet and Tap Routines have never been replicated with such precision. However the Rockettes Kick routines today are precision dance at its very best, original and real entertainment.

The Rockettes first kicked to life in 1925 as the "Missouri Rockets" and made their show business debut in St. Louis, the realization of a long-time dream of their creator, Russell Markert.

It is known that some of the Tiller Girls and American girls who trained with Mary Read were also involved in the Rockettes, one girl Lily Smart who trained with the Tiller School of Dance in Manchester and was with the 1922 troupe in the Ziegfeld Follies, she settled in America and Joined the Rockettes, she was with them for many years. Russell Markert added his own style to the Precision Dance routines; this found its way back to the Tiller girls in the United Kingdom.

Girls that had visited the USA during the late 1930s and 40s danced for the Troops and liked the American style of dancing and the costumes with head dresses they saw. American films also showed showgirls and had a big impact on the British audience. From the late 1940s through the 1970s the Tiller girls adopted a lot of the American Showgirl styles that could trace their roots back to the “Les Folies-Bergère” in the late 1890s.

-------- After John Tiller's death in 1925 the Tiller schools were kept alive first by his wife Jennie Tiller, then by some of the head girls and later, in the 1960s, by Robert Luff. The popularity of the Tiller Girls had waned a little in the UK by then but was kept alive by the 1960s Tiller Troupe performances at events and via television programs. Interest has recently been shown in the Tillers with the opening of a new Tiller School of Dance. The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, an American dance troupe, follow and keep alive the Tiller Girls tradition of high-kicking precision dancing.

Former Tiller Girls include:
Betty Boothroyd, Speaker of the House of Commons (1992-2000); Diana Vreeland, former Editor-in-chief of Vogue; Sunny Rogers, accompanying pianist to comedian Frankie Howerd; Avril Owton, Honoree Member of the Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World; Doremy Vernon, actress ("Are You Being Served?") and writer.

External links

* [http://peopleplayuk.org/guided_tours/dance_tour/popular_theatre/music_hall_tiller.php Entry at PeoplePlay UK] (UK Museum of Performance)
* [http://www.tillergirls.com/ Bernard Tiller's Tiller Girls Web Site)] Bernard Tiller's Tiller Girls Web Site Pages of information on John Tiller, The Tiller Girl Dancers and the Tiller School of Dancing
* [http://www.tillergirls.tk (A Second Link to the Tiller Girls web pages)] Tillergirls.tk

* Rockettes

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