They danced for Liberace. They danced for George W. Bush. But some of the Radio City Rockettes, America’s most beloved precision dance group, famous for their yearly holiday spectaculars, are drawing the line at president-elect Donald Trump.
On Dec. 22, the Rockettes’ parent organization, Madison Square Garden Company, announced that the group will perform at Trump’s presidential inauguration in January, an affair that has thus far been sorely lacking in A-list performers. (Even local high school marching bands have turned the gig down.)
Instead of embracing the assignment, some Rockettes responded with unease. “Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the presidential inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed,” one Rockette wrote on Instagram. Another called it “problematic” to be “forcing dozens of women to go and perform for this man.”
Their concerns triggered a swift rebuke from the Rockettes’ union, the American Guild of Variety Artists. “It is a job, and all of you should consider it an honor, no matter who is being sworn in,” a “high-ranking” union official reportedly wrote in an email obtained by a Broadway news publication. “The election is over and this country will not survive if it remains divided.”
The email went on to imply that Rockettes would risk their full-time employment by refusing to dance in the celebration:
We have received an email from a Rockette expressing concern about getting “involved in a dangerous political climate” but I must remind you that you are all employees, and as a company, Mr. Dolan obviously wants the Rockettes to be represented at our country’s Presidential inauguration, as they were in 2001 & 2005. Any talk of boycotting this event is invalid, I’m afraid.
“Everyone is entitled to her own political beliefs, but there is no room for this in the workplace,” the email reportedly went on to tell the Rockettes—a troupe of 80 dancers, of which about 30 perform in each show. “If you are not full time, you do not have to sign up to do this work. If you are full time, you are obligated. Doing the best performance to reflect an American Institution which has been here for over 90 years is your job. I hope this pulls into focus the bottom line on this work.” Quartz reached out to the union, as well as the Madison Square Garden Company, for comment, but neither immediately responded.
Fellow entertainers are showing support and sympathy for the reluctant Rockettes. One quipped on Facebook, “What could be more fitting for this inauguration than forcing a group of women to do something with their bodies against their will?”
Willing or not, the Rockettes seem to be the biggest performers lined up for Trump’s inauguration. (The inaugural committee also announced this week that it has secured the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.)
Asked by CNN whether there are any stars the inaugural committee is still keeping under wraps, Trump’s spokesman Boris Epshteyn said, “We are not putting on Woodstock.”
Epshteyn continued: “It’s not about artists. My top three people I’d like to see at the inaugural are Donald J. Trump, Donald J. Trump and Donald J. Trump.”
Meanwhile, Trump himself responded to the entertainment world’s snubs with defiance.