Though they’re known for their winning smiles and impressive high kicks, some members of The Rockettes are admitting that things among the group are not looking so bright and cheerful these days.
The drama around President-elect Donald Trump’s first day in office has been building as Inauguration Day draws closer, with debate over performances and refuted invitations by several artists, including Celine Dion and Elton John. The Rockettes have accepted their invite, but members were given the option of skipping out on the event… with strings attached.
One Rockette, using an anonymous pseudonym of “Mary,” spoke to Marie Claire about her experience in the group during such a stressful and intense time. To say things between the dancers are tense would be putting it lightly.
Mary told the magazine’s website that as the group officially found out about their performance invitation, one dancer next to her cried. She explained that while this dancer felt “forced,” another said in an email that she would be “uncomfortable” performing in front of the President-elect (who has bragged about sexually assaulting women) in their usual costumes.
Unfortunately, though they were given the choice of whether or not to attend amidst the tension, many of the dancers feel as though the choice is between their job and their own comfort.
Mary is unwavering.
“If I had to lose my job over this, I would. It’s too important. And I think the rest of the performing arts community would happily stand behind me.”
Before making her own choice, Mary was shocked at the news of the performance, having heard about it not from the organization’s higher-ups but from a text message.
“We actually found out through text messages from friends,” Mary says of being blindsided by the news. “They sent me screenshots of CNN, where the screen said: ‘Rockettes to Perform at Trump’s Inauguration.'”
They were then sent an email from the American Guild of Variety Artists, the union to which The Rockettes belong, which promptly reminded them that they were contractually obligated to perform.
The complexities of who exactly employs the dancers and how exactly their jobs could be affected by possible refusals can be difficult to understand.
“This is where it gets tricky,” Mary explains of the inconsistent reports from recent days about whether, in fact, the Rockettes have to perform after all. “Thirteen girls are full-time year-round Rockettes, and they sign a contract saying that aside from approved vacation time, they will be available to do any and all work,” she says. “The rest of us are seasonally contracted: 80 dancers, two casts of 40 women each.” The seasonal dancers received an email announcing the performance at the inauguration and asking for their availability. But the full-time dancers received a different email, only giving them the details of the appearance—not the choice of whether to participate.
Though it wasn’t considered optional at first, the event has now been given to Rockettes as a choice.
Three full-time dancers have declined to inform, according to Mary. After the performance, she says it will be “interesting” to see which dancers are asked to return as Rockettes.
Their jobs might not yet be at stake, but the group is still feeling the divide in ways that mimic the polarizing nature of the current American political and social climate.
The Rockettes aren’t exactly diverse, which Mary is quick to point out. She calls it “embarrassing” on an average day, but says the performance at the Presidential Inauguration could tarnish the company’s name forever. “It’s almost worse to have 18 pretty white girls behind this man who supports so many hate groups,” Mary said before going on to ask, “They’re going to be branded in history as one of those women… How’s it going to look?”
Mary also says that not only do racial tensions play a role in the group’s current hesitance, but also the factors of diversity in terms of the LGBT community and immigration as well.
But the majority of the staff skews liberal, she says, especially considering the many LGBT employees at Radio City. “It’s the ensemble. It’s the people in our wardrobe and hair department, some of whom are transgender,” she says. “These are our friends and our family, who we’ve worked with for years. It’s a basic human-rights issue. We have immigrants in the show. I feel like dancing for Trump would be disrespecting the men and women who work with us, the people we care about.”
The decision weighs heavily on the dancers at an already difficult time. Christmas is their busiest season and Mary says they are “exhausted” in the face of such an “unbearable” choice.
“When I was a child, I remember seeing the Rockettes and thinking they were the most powerful women ever,” Mary said. “We’re representing every little girl’s dream.”
The Rockettes may be living the dream of many young girls, but in the end, Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day has been shaping up to be a nightmare.
[H/T: Marie Claire]