Kickin’ it with a Rockette

Published 10:02 pm Wednesday, July 30, 2014

By Frank Roberts

Renee Perry Mitchell — before she became a Mitchell — moved from Suffolk to New York, back to Suffolk and then back to New York, specifically to “42nd Street,” home of “those dancin’ feet.”

That’s a line from a production that harks back to the ’30s. The stage production became a Betty Grable-Ruby Keeler movie. Theaters across the country revive it regularly and, right here in Suffolk, it recently played to packed houses at the Suffolk Arts Center.

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The stars of the Suffolk show rehearse right behind the Bennett’s Creek Farm Market, (a great place for veggie breaks), in a building once used by the rescue squad where Mitchell rescues them from their daily routines.

The young eager dancers and singers are members of her dance studio, RPM, which is in its 10th year. About 175 students take lessons from a young lady who spent eight years as a member of the prestigious Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. They study every style of dance, working with seven instructors.

“Anyone who has the privilege of being taught by Renee Perry Mitchell is certain to achieve artistic excellence,” according to J. Teddy Johnson, CEO of a Las Vegas music company.

It took a lifetime of practice and work to achieve the excellence demanded At Radio City Music Hall.

You don’t just walk into the cavernous theater and say, “Hey, I wanna dance.” You have to be A-number-one, better’n the best.

“The competition is rough,” Mitchell said. “Hundreds of people are interviewed. From 300 to 500 people show up for auditions. Then, there are call-backs. Then, the number is narrowed down to 20.”

She was accepted in 1997, leaving in 2002. “I wanted to move into something different,” she explained. “I’ve been pretty fortunate.”

It was glamorous work, but it was very difficult work. The dancers are at it eight hours a day, six days a week, with rehearsals and productions — and, of course, you have to be physically fit.

“There are about 300 kicks per show,” Mitchell said.

But it does not all happen only at 1260 Avenue Of the Americas. It happens all over America, as the Rockettes broaden their horizons. There is also the annual stint for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Mitchell also took a side job, as a tour guide for visitors interested in backstage with the Rockettes.

One engagement brought them to Vegas, and that is where the former Miss Perry met a fortunate accountant. Steve Mitchell, she said, is “also an excellent musician, and a good guy.” He plays professional guitar.

The couple have two girls, Twyla and Zoey, future RPM students for sure and, possibly, Rockettes in the making.

Renee Mitchell credits her parents with teaching her a work ethic. They told her “giving up on something is never an option. They said I could do anything I wanted, but I had to work hard.”

The work ethic took hold early, as Mitchell began dancing at the age of 2. The Forest Glen High School graduate, among other things, portrayed Liesl in the Franklin Little Theater production of, “The Sound Of Music,” and, she said, “I always did talent shows.” Plus, she performed at the Virginia State Fair.

Mitchell has a degree in voice, “singing and dancing at the same time,” from East Carolina University. Her concentration was in musical theater. She taught tap at the Virginia Governor’s School For the Arts.

She did shows at Kings Dominion as a lead singer with “It’s Magic.” She recalled recently, “You met me there and did a story on me.”

Happily, I am at it again.

On a side note, in my childhood years, I don’t think I ever missed a Music Hall Christmas show. The theater is a 30-minute ride from my childhood home. There were four shows daily.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at