Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

Albany’s Helene Durnell Joins The Rockettes

Story from the Albany Times-Union, December 18, 1940


Helene Dernell “On Top” After Lifetime Of Effort

Fifty million people of various nationalities can’t be wrong either. That’s the estimated number of persons who have visited Radio City Music Hall to marvel and acclaim the “Rockettes,” world- famed exponents of precision dancing.

And in the chorus line of 34 (eighth from the left, sir) is Albany’s Helene Dernell.


Her success in New York’s theatrical life, however, is no surprise to Albany relatives and friends. From early childhood, it was prophesized that she would some day win her place in the Broadway “playground.” As a member of the Music hall chorus, considered by leaders in the show world the most outstanding dancing organization of modem times, she has arrived.

Although many of the girls come from non-theatrical families, it oould be said that Helene was raised in the proverbial wardrobe trunk. As a child of four, she was a star of Gus Edwards’ baby show and all through her school years she danced professionally.


Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Vinsone, moved to New York from Albany to enable Helene to study under the best dancing professionals. The family circle often has laughed at the reason, for when they moved they took an outstanding professional with them – Mrs. Vinsone, who, under the stage name of Hope Hamilton, was ballerine with the Metropolitan Opera.company. Local family pride in Helene’s success still is furnished by her two aunts, Mrs. Marie Rinehard, 942 Central avenue, and Mrs. Louise Anteman, Dormansville.

Behind the scenes in the world’s largest theatre, the native Albany girl has a life In direct contrast to the plebeian conception of musty, dark-walled ugliness.

Arriving at the theatre at 9 a.m. she may breakfast In the spotless backstage cafeteria. Rehearsal from 10 until noon follows. Helene usually eats in and is free to relax until the first show. She may pass the time skating on the artificial rink at Rockefeller Plaza or in the recreation room for a rubber of bridge. A backstage library offers quiet relaxation. Or if she’s tired, she may take a nap in the airy domitory.



After the curtain rings down at the end of the first show, the Rockettes have another brief rehearsal. Then, except for three 15- minute performances, the afternoon and evening are free. Helene laughs when she recalls the crowded confusion she experienced as a dancer in “Smile at Me,” ‘”George White’s Scandals,” and “White Horse Inn.”

Hundreds of hopefuls have been turned away from the stage door when dance directors sought to replace a member of the troupe – only one out of every 300 who apply being judged capable of filling the shoes of a “retiring” Rockette.

Briefly, a girl, to qualify, must be attractive, have a good figure and a pleasant smile. Extensive experience is not required but she must be equipped with some ballet training and a good foundation of tap-dancing. But most of all she must be capable of mastering the grace and rhythmic footwork that has won the dancing unit international fame.

And one thing more. She must not indulge in the summer pastime of sun-bathing. Helene, when enjoying the coolness of the roof garden during warm summer days, must lounge under umbrellas calculated to defy Old Sol’s best efforts. Even pale-skinned symmetry must be maintained.

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