Before the Rockettes

The Tiller Girls in an impromptu dance line, 1900

Thirty-six years before the original Rockettes appeared on a St. Louis stage in 1925,* a failed cotton magnate named John Tiller formed a dance troupe that featured quick, perfectly synchronized dance steps. By the 1920s, several dozen troupes of Tiller Girls, selected for uniform height and weight, performed in major cities across Europe. They were so popular that European revue directors formed similar troupes.

Lines of pretty women dancing, or at least posing, had been a staple of variety revues for years. The thing that made the Tiller Girls different from earlier chorus lines was their speed and precision, which many theater reviewers compared to the dynamism of the modern era. Tiller had created a human equivalent of the factory machine, with dancers as interchangeable parts in coordinated kick-lines.


*Yes. St. Louis. The Rockettes first hit Radio City Music Hall in 1932. I was surprised, too.


  1. Sandra Bryant on May 20, 2023 at 3:56 pm

    Hi Pamela, I thought you’d like to know something else about the Tillers. John Tiller’s son, Lawrence Tiller, formed competing troupes to his father’s which also performed in NYC and toured the US, and are often confused with the original Tiller Girls.

    A Tiller School was established in NYC in the late 1910s, and my great aunt Mary Read ran the school and choreographed the Tiller Girls’ routines in at least 9 musicals, many of which featured Fred Stone. John Tiller died in NY in 1925, and Mary ran the school through 1935, at which time the NY Tillers’ presence ended.

    Please feel free to contact me if you would like more information on the American Tillers.

    • Pamela on May 22, 2023 at 5:40 pm

      Fascinating, and thank you. For now they are simply an interesting nugget that caught my imagination. But if I end up going deeper I will definitely contact you.

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