For once, the Radio City Rockettes are not in sync.
After an anonymous member of the 91-year-old institution spoke out about the turmoil going on behind the scenes in the wake of news that the group would be performing at Donald Trump‘s Jan. 20 inauguration, the executive chairman of their management team held a private meeting with dancers to discuss the controversy.
The private Dec. 27 meeting, led by James Dolan of the Madison Square Garden Company, was recorded by a member of the Rockettes and leaked to MarieClarie.com — who published the details of the conversation on Tuesday.
Its publication angered the MSG Company, who made it clear in a statement obtained by PEOPLE that the story included comments made by various Rockettes in the meeting without their permission.
“This is one person who continues to attempt to represent the entire team of Rockettes. This time it’s in a story that is the result of an unauthorized recording that violated the confidentiality of all of her sister Rockettes,” said Barry Watkins, chief communications officer for The Madison Square Garden Company.
“While Mr. Dolan stands behind everything he said during the meeting, no one in that room believed they were speaking publicly,” he continued. “Everyone in the meeting had the chance to speak their mind in a safe setting, and many did. Her secret recording was deceitful and cowardly and has betrayed all of her fellow Rockettes. Posting this story is beneath the ethical standards of Hearst. We are deeply disappointed in their decision to post this story.”
In the meeting, many of the Rockettes spoke out about their displeasure with the decision to perform at the inauguration — and the negativity they’ve received in the news and on social media in the wake of the announcement.
Given the derogatory “locker room” comments the president-elect previously made about grabbing women against their will — and his controversial views on immigration and race relations — the news created conflict within the group.
“The social media backlash on both sides of the political spectrum has been unbearable, I think,” one dancer allegedly said during the meeting. “Especially as someone who has loved and respected the Rockettes since I was three years old. I think that the Rockettes have always been apolitical, and now by performing at this particular inauguration, it’s making us political.”
She alleged she had received messages from Trump supporters telling her to “shut up and dance.”
“We were #1 trending on Twitter and it’s just really hard to see, especially our faces being likened to Nazis,” the dancer continued. “Is this not something we could have foreseen?”
Dolan remained firm in his decision, explaining that while their participation in the inauguration does not mean the brand endorses President-elect Trump, it is an honor to be included in the annual event.
“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.”
“We’re celebrating a new president, not necessarily this president,” he said.
As for fears that aligning with Trump might tarnish the Rockettes’ reputation, Dolan didn’t agree. “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,” Dolan continued. “Hopefully they will like our brand. If 1% of 1% of them come to our show, we’re going to do great.”
He advised the Rockettes to focus on the idea of “tolerance.”
“I find it a little ironic,” he said. “I get all of these emails, too, from people saying, ‘Don’t perform for this hateful person.’ And then they proceed to spew out this diatribe of hate.”
Dolan eventually agreed that he was asking the Rockettes to be tolerant of intolerance. “I guess we are doing that,” he said, asking the team. “What other choices do we have? What else would you suggest?”
Throughout the 40-minute meeting, MarieClare.com reports that many of the women had their chance to express themselves — and that Dolan did apologize for the booking hitting the news before the Rockettes themselves were informed. “I’m not perfect,” he admitted.
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Participation in the Jan. 20 inauguration is considered optional for the 80 seasonally contracted dancers. Typically, the 13 full-time, year-round Rockettes have contracts requiring them to be present for all gigs — though Dolan made an exception this time around.
“This is the one time we’re going to do this,” Dolan said of the allowance of full-time Rockettes to skip the event. “We’re not going to do it again.”
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