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MSG Chairman Defends Trump Decision to Rockettes in Secretly Recorded Meeting: “I Gotta Sell Tickets”

The same day Marie Claire published an interview with a Rockette about the fallout the group faced after it was announced that they would perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration, Madison Square Garden executive chairman and Rockettes owner James Dolan called an impromptu meeting with the dancers during in which he doubled down on his company’s decision and told the group that they needed “to be tolerant of intolerance.” The December 27 meeting was recorded by someone in attendance, and today, Marie Claire published an article containing excerpts from it.

“This is a great national event,” Dolan said at the start of the meeting. “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.”

Dolan also refuted concerns from several dancers that the performance might damage the troupe’s reputation. “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 said. “A good portion of people voted for [Trump]. Hopefully they will like our brand. If 1% of 1% of them come to our show, we’re going to do great.”

The dancers, several of whom “were noticeably upset when speaking up and asking questions,” also expressed anxiety about the online abuse they’re now facing from both sides of the political spectrum.

“We were #1 trending on Twitter and it’s just really hard to see, especially our faces being likened to Nazis,” one dancer said. “Is this not something we could have foreseen? I think it’s been really hard for all of us. Especially around Christmas, and the schedule’s so hard, and we’re all so tired.”

Dolan responded with an urge for the dancers to be more “tolerant.”

“I find it a little 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.”

“I mean, it just sounds like you’re asking us to be tolerant of intolerance,” another dancer said.

“Yeah, in a way, I guess we are doing that,” Dolan replied. “What other choices do we have? What else would you suggest?”

In response to the Marie Claire article, MSG released the following statement:

“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. While Mr. Dolan stands behind everything he said during the meeting, no one in that room believed they were speaking publicly. 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.”

Thirteen full-time dancers and several seasonal dancers have reportedly refused to perform at the inauguration.

UPDATE: In another statement, MSG said performance is always voluntary, and claimed they received more requests to participate than usual:

The Radio City Rockettes are proud to participate in the 58th Presidential Inaugural. For a Rockette to be considered for an event, they must voluntarily sign up and are never told they have to perform at a particular event, including the inaugural. It is always their choice. In fact, for the coming inauguration, we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available. We eagerly await the inaugural celebrations.