NEW YORK -- Dance teacher Frank Hatchett remembers what went through his mind when he heard that Jennifer Jones, one of his students, won an audition that made her the first black Rockette.
"I was real proud and excited," says Hatchett, who teaches jazz dance at the Broadway Dance Center, "and after the initial shock wore off, I thought about it a little and I realized, 'She's the one.'
"I felt there was something here -- a special quality that could blend in. It just happens that she's black."
It also happens that Jones, who on Sunday will bow as a Radio City Music Hall Rockette during the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII, is an unusually charming young woman who hopes this first big break will lead to a show-biz career.
"I want to be on television, or dancing or acting," the 20-year-old Jones says breathlessly, her brown eyes wide with excitement. "I want to be in modeling."
Wherever the long-legged lady ends up, she's off to an auspicious beginning. "She's making her debut as a Rockette in front of the world's biggest audience," says a spokesman for the precision dance troupe. "Not a bad place to start."
Actually, Jones is joining the Rockettes' replacement list, because the troupe, usually 36 on the Radio City stage, needed eight extra dancers to provide 88 legs for the '88 Super Bowl in San Diego.
Although she's quit her office job, Jones' launch as a Rockette has not affected her fitness routine. She has none. She has no special diet. She doesn't even have a scale.
"I try to stay away from sugar, but every now and then I go to Mrs. Fields," Jones admits. Cookie cravings not withstanding, the last time Jones weighed herself, she was 130. The pounds sit lightly on her narrow, 5-foot-7 frame.
"I watch what I eat, but I don't pay close attention," Jones says. When she feels her clothes getting tighter, she works harder at her dance classes. She goes to two a day -- one in jazz with Hatchett and one in ballet with Peff Modelski.
Some students take the classes for exercise or diversion. For Jones and other professionals, they are a necessity -- places to learn and sharpen skills. And they are a daily routine.
Everything Hatchett says about his student becomes apparent after watching his high-energy class. Jones does blend in -- but she also stands out.
The first 45 minutes of class consist of stretching and warm-up. In the second 45, Hatchett leads his dancers -- representing a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, sizes, body types and abilities -- through an enthusiastic jazz routine. It's like "A Chorus Line" in real life.
When Jones dances through it -- leaping, twisting, high-kicking to Hatchett's commands -- she becomes part of the unit. Yet her eloquent, graceful movements set her apart.
Throughout the class, the students applaud, cheering themselves, their classmates and their teacher. It's a good sound. And it's one Jones will be hearing more often.