Don't Be Fooled, The Rockettes Don't Have Much of a Choice

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder

Hours ago it was announced that New York City dance icons, The Rockettes, will be performing at Donald Trump's inauguration in January. The group has performed at inaugurations in the past, most recently for both of George W. Bush's. 

However, with the fact that it's Donald Trump this time around, this announcement has sparked a bit of a furor online. News of the booking has already birthed a #boycottrockettes with plenty more chiming that they will never support the dance group or their performances again. Take for instance, this genius:

But before we all get up in anger and start labeling this group as Trump-supporting racists. Let's ask the important question, do these dancers really have a choice in the matter? 

The answer is basically, Yes and No. 

It's a bit complicated and I don't expect someone who hasn't been exposed to the dance industry in NYC to understand. But let me try anyway. 

Now before we get in deep in this, let's understand why they're performing there at all. It's not as if the Rockettes, themselves arranged to perform at this event. The decision was made by MSG Sports & Entertainment, LLC and agreed to, by their union, American Guild of Variety Artists(AGVA). 

MSG Sports & Entertainment, LLC is owned by James Dolan. Dolan is a big political contributor and has donated to candidates from both parties. It's unclear, at this time, if he donated anything to Trump but given that they are both NYC moguls, we can assume they at least have some sort of relationship. 

Given that the group has performed at these events before AND it's one of the most watched events in the world AND now you have an NYC Icon being inaugurated as President (which might be able to help you down the road), it's a no-brainer that Dolan would want these women to perform. 

Now according to sources connected with the Rockettes, dancer contracts are usually up after the conclusion of the Christmas Spectacular. There are some that are employed full time(Year Round). This basically means that the dancers who you will see perform at the inauguration are either under contract to do so or were asked and chose to take the gig. 

So yes, some of these women do have a choice to be there or not. But do they really have a choice? 

Under all the contracts I've ever seen, there is always an option to decline to perform. However that would be logged as a "declined to accept" which will certainly be documented and remembered the next time jobs become available or auditions are held. 

It doesn't take a genius to understand that the dance industry in NYC is hard, but hard would be putting it lightly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, of all the tax return, identified dancers in NYC, 1.4% of them reported employment. 

So before you pass judgement on any of these dancers over their reasons for performing at this event. Let me ask you this. 

What would you do if you were in their shoes?

Let's say you're a young 20 something year old, fresh out of college, paying student loans, bills and NYC rent/taxes/utilities and you are one of the 1.4% of people in your industry to have a job that pays (according to Gothamist) $1,500 a week, and they ask you to perform in an additional gig that could land you much needed money, would you do it? 

What if you said no? That could potentially land you in a documented category that would not only prevent you from ever being a Rockette again but also jeopardize your entire dance career.  MSG Sports & Entertainment, LLC and AGVA aren't the mafia but it would be moronic to think that word about a certain dancer's willingness to perform doesn't spread quickly in industry circles in one city. Knowing that risk, would you take the gig? 

So before you start decreeing that these woman are choosing to perform and are therefore endorsing Trump's policies, understand that these women are stuck between a razer sharp rock and an unyielding hard place. 

If you want to be mad about this, blame James Dolan and MSG Sports & Entertainment, LLC for making the decision on behalf of these performers. Blame AGVA(who can be contacted at 212-675-1003 by the way) for forcing them to perform under threat of termination. Heck, blame the 62 Million, well placed, voters who made this shit-storm possible to begin with. 

But do not blame these dancers who have worked almost their entire lives to get to what is considered to be a pinnacle of the dance profession and are being put into a terrible position. 

We're living in an age where reason and compassion as needed now more than ever. So before you get on your Twitter soapbox, think about what you would do if faced with a decision that could end your career at 24 years old. I don't think you would take that decision lightly. 


UPDATE 1/3/17 - The Jan. 20 show is optional, even for the 12 full-time dancers, but Dolan was reportedly trying to explain to all the members as to why going to Washington, D.C. would be a good idea. According to, Dolan sat down with the Rockettes on Dec. 27. An excerpt, in which the Rockettes’ brand is invoked: 

Dolan held firm to his controversial inauguration commitment in this meeting. “This is a great national event,” he said. “Every four years we put in a new president. It’s a huge moment in the country’s history. It usually signifies a whole change in how the government is going to run. The fact that we get to participate in it…we are an American brand, and I think it’s very appropriate that the Rockettes dance in the inaugural and 4th of July and our country’s great historical moments.”
When asked by a woman in the room if that means the Rockettes support President-elect Trump outright, Dolan clarified “no,” but when pressed about the idea that aligning the Rockettes with such a controversial figure could tarnish the brand, Dolan didn’t budge: “I don’t believe it’s going to hurt the brand. 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.” He went on to point out that support from Trump voters isn’t something he wants to miss out on: “A good portion of people voted for this person. Hopefully they will like our brand. If 1% of 1% of them come to our show, we’re going to do great.”
One dancer eventually piped up: “I mean, it just sounds like you’re asking us to be tolerant of intolerance.” Her comment was followed by uncomfortable laughter around the room and a pause.
“Yeah, in a way, I guess we are doing that,” Dolan said. “What other choices do we have? What else would you suggest?”

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