Save the National Endowment for the Arts!

In lieu of a Terpsichorean Heroes post, I wanted to share how you can be a terpsichorean hero today. All it takes is your signature.

In the wake of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, major changes have taken effect including executive orders that defunded Planned Parenthood, increased deportations, and suspended entry for Syrian refugees, among other radical decisions. Also rumored to be under attack is the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA provides valuable funding for the fine arts (dance, visual arts, music, etc.) as well as literature. This endowment, which has found itself on the chopping block many times in the last three-and-a-half decades, has helped organizations including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, LINES, Chicago Children’s Theatre and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Currently, according to The Hill, the new administration is planning budget cuts that would eliminate the NEA and  The National Endowment for the Humanities. The new administration plans to also privatize The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

You can help preserve this important benefactor to the arts by signing this petition to the White House. The petition needs to reach 100,000 signatures to get a response from the White House, hopefully it will be a good one!

For more information about how the NEA has pushed the dance world forward, click here. To learn how the arts help the world around you, click here.

Terpsichorean Heroes: Phoebe Pearl

It all started with an Instagram post.

rockette-ig

That is (part of) how The Radio City Rockettes performance at Donald Trump’s inauguration became national news a month before the scheduled appearance. In the wake of her moment of outspokenness, Phoebe Pearl, the Rockette who made the post about the performance has become a dance world hero.

“The women I work with are intelligent and full of love,” Pearl said in her original Instagram post. “I am speaking for just myself but please know that after we found out this news we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts.”

Since publicly voicing her displeasure at being compelled to perform at the inauguration, Phoebe Pearl has maintained her stance. Most recently, Pearl spoke at an event hosted by the Bessie Awards at the LaMama Theatre, where dance icons like Yvonne Rainer praised her courage and toasted the first amendment. But for Pearl, this was more than just an act of bravery. “This isn’t political, this is about human rights. No matter where you come from, your sexual orientation or race, you deserve respect, you deserve love,” she said.

I’m just standing up for human rights….standing up for what we all deserve, and how we treat each other. As artists we all owe it to ourselves, owe it to the community. It’s our obligation to use our platforms to do what’s right. This isn’t political, this is about human rights. No matter where you come from, your sexual orientation or race, you deserve respect, you deserve love. We live in a country that grants us the right to speak against something that’s against that.”-Phoebe Pearl

“It is this essential American freedom of expression that dancers embody in their physical work onstage. Dance and all artistic expression are by their very nature personal and political, and a critical part of our national cultural dialogue,” said Bessies director Lucy Sexton. To Phoebe Pearl, to her fellow dancers at the Rockettes, know that we support you, that we salute you, that we stand ready to fight for your—and all of our—rights under the Constitution, especially the precious right of Americans to freely express ourselves.”

While Pearl may not think of herself as being overly courageous, the bravery of her act cannot be ignored. Thus far, Pearl is the only Rockette to speak out using her real name. Another Rockette gave an exclusive interview to Marie Claire under the pseudonym “Mary” but many others have remained silent. Pearl has also not backed down from her original statement, instead holding fast to her beliefs and continuing to publicly claim them, even as the Rockettes performed at the White House today.

In a world that is as small as that of professional dance, speaking out publicly against your employer can have severe consequences. While The Rockettes organization has said that the dancers’ fears of retribution are unfounded, Rosemary Novellino-Mearns, the former dance captain of the Radio City Ballet Company, begs to differ. Novellino-Mearns successfully rallied to save the Radio City Music Hall from demolition and have it registered as a city landmark in the 1970s, efforts she discusses in her new book Saving Radio City Music Hall: A Dancer’s True Story. In a recent interview with journalist Sheryl McCarthy, Novellino-Mearns explained  why it has taken more than 40 years for the story to be told.

They were not gracious in their defeat. Rockefeller center…it was truly a David and Goliath story and the little guy won. And I don’t think the Rockefellers liked that–were used to that–and they buried the story completely… I never worked there again.-Rosemary Novellino-Mearns

Whether Pearl’s job is on the line remains to be seen but even if she continues to high kick as a Rockette, her actions will remain a poignant statement that the decisions of dance organizations are not always (if ever) reflective of the dancers who comprise them.

A Gig by Any Other Name: Thoughts on the Rockettes Inauguration Controversy

I’m sure most dancers (and people in general) have heard this story in some form. On Dec. 23 BroadwayWorld.com released an email from the American Guild of Variety Artists saying that the Radio City Rockettes were obligated to sign up to perform at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

“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,” the email said.

As I read the emails, two questions popped into my head. The first, just as we are often asked to separate the art from the artist, can a working dancer separate a gig from its context? Furthermore, should directors, choreographers and other leaders in the dance world ask this of dancers and fire them if they refuse?

Are all gigs equal?

AGVA framed performing at the inauguration as just another job.  But is it ever really okay to accept a job, your own personal convictions be damned? One of my favorite bloggers Alison Green of Ask A Manager often talks about what she calls “philosophical alignment” and I think it’s pretty relevant to this post. Philosophical alignment means knowing what is expected of you by your employer and either deciding that you can adhere to what they want or that you may have the standing to convince them to try another way. So if you truly feel that you can separate yourself from whatever the gig is and just embody the choreography you were given, then I guess go for it. Or, if you think you have good enough reason to get out of doing a job or believe you can try to convince your employer not to do the performance at all, then that is also worth a try.

But this particular issue doesn’t simply end with the dancers, which brings me to my next question…

How much power should bosses/ADs/choreographers have?

The other (larger) half of this issue is AGVA and the Rockettes as an organization. Although the Rockettes released a statement saying that performing in the inauguration was optional, in the emails, full-time dancers were required to sign up, seemingly regardless of interest. It has also been reported that initially seasonal dancers were emailed about the performance asking for availability and full-time dancers, who are required to participate in any and all jobs outside of their pre-approved vacation time, were simply told the details of the performance, without the choice to opt out.

Let’s say for the sake of the argument that this was indeed a required performance. Is it the place of an Artistic Director/agent/choreographer/etc., to ignore or ask that other dancers and performers ignore their own personal convictions or be fired? It seems like a pretty unfair bargain for dancers to have to make, but since dance companies are run like businesses and have standards and procedures in place, as long as they remain within those standards, it would appear that they can compel the dancers (their employees) to do whatever they wish.

But this inauguration is no ordinary gig. In an interview with Marie Claire, an anonymous Rockette identified as Mary said, “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.”  A gig that a dancer feels can cause trauma or even could jeopardize their future down the line (e.g. dancing in a burlesque show when you one day hope to work with children), is different. Dance is already physically draining and often emotionally taxing. No dancer should feel compelled to potentially cause themselves trauma or personal distress, lest they lose their job.

There is also the problem of how this will look to the public–the people who pay to see the Rockettes dance. For decades and even now, the lack of diversity within the Rockettes (a dance company that didn’t allow black women until 1987) has been problematic, or to use Mary’s word “embarrassing.” No black Rockettes have signed up for the inauguration and Mary believes (correctly) that an all white group of dancers will send a startling and telling image to the world. People’s perceptions of dance companies are largely based on what they see on stage. To AGVA, it may really be just a job, but the world doesn’t know what goes on behind the scenes, or in the mind of a director. Reports have already surfaced that ticket sales to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which is having its final show dates this week, have dropped off significantly since the Rockettes announced their intent to perform at the inauguration. The impact down the line could be even more damaging since public opinion is fickle but strong and once it’s against you, recovery is a slow and sometimes futile process.

I won’t be watching the inauguration for personal reasons, but I am interested to see the conclusion of this story. Will the Rockettes high kick their personal feelings to the curb, will AGVA and the Rockettes organization have a change of heart, or will something totally different and unexpected occur?