An executive at the company that owns the Radio City Rockettes brand told dancers in a private meeting last week that they should "be tolerant of intolerance" when it comes to performing at President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20th. Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan met with the dancers for nearly 40 minutes on December 27th, with excerpts of the meeting published by Marie Claire.
"I would simply say: we're celebrating a new president, not necessarily this president," Dolan told the dancers. He stressed that it was an honor to perform at any presidential inauguration.
"I don't believe it's going to hurt the brand," he said. "And nobody is more concerned about that than the guy sitting in this chair. I'm about to spend $50 million remounting this summer show. I'm going to spend a similar amount remounting next year's Christmas show. I gotta sell tickets. ... A good portion of people voted for this person. Hopefully they will like our brand. If one percent of one percent of them come to our show, we're going to do great."
He also focused on the idea of tolerance, calling the way people have reacted online and personally to the booking announcement "ironic." "I get all of these emails, too, from people saying, 'Don't perform for this hateful person,'" he said. "And then they proceed to spew out this diatribe of hate."
One dancer said, "I mean, it just sounds like you're asking us to be tolerant of intolerance." He paused to consider his answer and said, "Yeah, in a way, I guess we are doing that. What other choices do we have? What else would you suggest?"
He also seemed to address the fact that no women of color had signed up to perform at the inauguration. "You are diverse," he told the women. "As diverse as we can make the Rockettes while still holding up the standards of quality."
He additionally told the dancers that they should expect to perform at the White House's July Fourth celebrations. He added that, while full-time dancers were allowed to opt out of performing at the inauguration, the Independence Day performance would be mandatory.
Madison Square Garden's COO Barry Watkins later lambasted the leak of the audio. "While Mr. Dolan stands behind everything he said during the meeting, no one in that room believed they were speaking publicly," he told The Wrap. "Everyone in the meeting had the chance to speak their mind in a safe setting, and many did. [A dancer's] secret recording was deceitful and cowardly and has betrayed all of her fellow Rockettes."
The furor over the Rockettes' booking erupted shortly before Christmas. The dancers had received a letter from management saying that if they were full-time, they were "obligated" to perform, according to The New York Times, but the American Guild of Variety Artists reached an agreement with management that made participation voluntary. The company later issued a statement, saying, "we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available."
Nevertheless, Rockette dancer Phoebe Pearl wrote on Instagram that same day that she felt "embarrassed and disappointed" that the company had decided for them that they would be performing at the inauguration. A few days later, a Rockette spoke anonymously with Marie Claire about the situation.
"We do a lot of events, but there have been no events that could cause trauma – and doing this would cause trauma for some people," she said. She also claimed that no women of color had signed up to perform at the inauguration.