The Radio City Rockettes got their kicks in at President Donald Trump’s inaugural ball on Friday.
The legendary group took the stage at around 8:10 p.m. ET and performed a medley of Irving Berlin songs. They performed a second routine at a different ball about 40 minutes later.
It was a rough road for the ladies of the 91-year-old institution, who faced public backlash after their participation in the day’s festivities was announced.
The in-sync dancers were also incredibly divided over the event — many angry about the derogatory “locker room” comments Trump previously made about grabbing women against their will, and his controversial views on immigration, race relations, and LGBTQ rights.
Phoebe Pearl, a former Rockette who left the company at the end of this holiday season, first spoke out about the conflict in a now-deleted message on her personal Instagram account — saying she felt “embarrassed and disappointed” to perform for the former businessman.
“I usually don’t use social media to make a political stand but I feel overwhelmed with emotion,” she wrote, per the The Hollywood Reporter. “Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the Presidential inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed. The women I work with are intelligent and are full of love, and the decision of performing for a man who stands for everything we’re against is appalling. 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. We will not be forced! #notmypresident.’ “
“People have been calling me courageous,” she said. “But I don’t see it that way. I’m just standing up for human rights.”
Another Rockette spoke under the pseudonym “Mary” to Marie Claire, explaining that the Rockettes were blinded by the news when it was made public, having not heard about it directly from their employer or union first.
In the wake of the divide, James Dolan — the executive chairman of their management team, the Madison Square Garden Company — held a private meeting on Dec. 27 with dancers to discuss the controversy. It was recorded by a member of the Rockettes and leaked to MarieClarie.com, much to the displeasure of the MSG Company.
Throughout the 40-minute meeting, many of the Rockettes had the chance to express their displeasure with the decision to perform, and the negativity they received in the news and on social media in the wake of the announcement. Dolan did apologize for the booking hitting the news before the Rockettes themselves were informed. “I’m not perfect,” he admitted.
Participation in the inauguration was 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 a women’s rights issue,” Mary told Marie Claire. “This is an issue of racism and sexism, something that’s much bigger than politics … It’s a basic human-rights issue. We have immigrants in the show. I feel like dancing for Trump would be disrespecting the men and women who work with us, the people we care about.”
Meanwhile Rockette Alumnae Association President Patty DeCarlo Grantham told the Times that some alums are frustrated that some Rockettes are resisting performing.
“So many people wrote to me and said, ‘I feel so ashamed about what’s going on,’ ” Grantham said. “We feel like it’s a great honor to be asked to dance.”