Looking at the Rockettes Twitter account you would be hard pressed to find any signs of the political storm playing out between the iconic dance company and its handlers, especially Madison Square Garden Company CEO James Dolan. The picture on their account @Rockettes looks mostly garden variety rosy, with photos of recent programs and the usual holiday fare but not a single post covering what has become an unlikely political front page story for dance in the post-election season.
But dial down to replies and you get a sense of the fury out there over the continuing pressure the group faces to perform at the inauguration later in January. Posts about how to tendu, and announcements on the company’s summer intensive sag under the weight of brutal public comment. Of course Dolan, the visible public face of Madison Square Garden Company, which manages the Rockettes brand, is used to the heat. As the owner of both the Knicks and the Rangers sports franchises, he has been vilified for tanking both teams with lousy management and losing records for over a decade. His responses have indicated that he, like Trump, is a man designed with an identical immunity to public comment and an overbearing, toxic narcissism.
The stakes became even more contentious recently when the dancer leaking information on the company for the Marie Claire stories recorded a meeting between Dolan and the company’s dancers late in December. The company has vilified the “cowardly betrayal” of the leaker as no friend of the Rockettes sisterhood. But the worst of it was Dolan arguing the following on the diversity and women issue which has been at the center of the company’s reluctance to perform.
“The Rockettes are as diverse as we can make while still holding up the standards of quality.”
The suggestion is that the further the company wanders from its original, white brand the harder it is to be the Rockettes. This of course further compromises exactly what Dolan hopes to promote from the company’s unique brand of dance Americana and parallels the worst of what Trump has offered in off handedly marginalizing minorities and shocking the last bit of decency out of a political campaign that, from the beginning, has been dedicated to exclusion.
Dolan went on to argue that the standoff has not, and will not hurt the Rockettes brand though dancers themselves have commented on the empty seats during the Christmas Spectacular which regularly sells out. Some Twitter users have even sworn off ever showing up for a performance again. But he also has blamed those initiating the public storm of criticism for intolerance, hoping to paint them with the same unreasonableness that has been leveled against Trump and the Madison Square Garden Company. As one dancer pleaded, “it seems you are asking us to be tolerant of intolerance”. Dolan responded.
“Yeah, in a way, I guess we are doing that. What other choices do we have? What else would you suggest?”
Dolan looks at the Rockettes as the public face of national celebration, a group somehow duty bound to show up for inaugurations (as they did for Bush) and the Capitol’s 4th of July celebrations. Like so much of Trumpland ideology, perhaps the usual expectations are about to take a hard turn into a divisive world where normalizing political ups and downs becomes impossible. There are of course, “other choices”. The Rockettes know what those choices are and continue to act in their best interests in refusing a command performance for a man who has objectified women in the worst sorts of ways. Dolan has promised them next time around, there will be no “opt out” position.
(Dolan and his family, from whom he has inherited his wealth and position, manage MSG sports franchises including the Rockettes and Cablevision Systems Corporation. The family net worth is around $10 billion. Dolan was named in a sex harassment suit by a MSG employee in 2007. He lost in court and paid $14 million with MSG as part of the settlement.)