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Rockettes' Reaction to Performing at Inauguration Prompts Stern Union Response

The Madison Square Garden Co. said Friday no dancers are being compelled to attend the event

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    The world-famous Radio City Rockettes have been called on to perform at President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration, but not everyone is kicking up their heels at the booking. Ray Villeda reports. (Published Friday, Dec. 23, 2016)

    The world-famous Radio City Rockettes have been called on to perform at President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration, but not everyone is kicking up their heels at the booking.

    When told they would be performing at Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20, some dancers expressed their displeasure over email and social media and reportedly discussed boycotting it, according to BroadwayWorld.com. 

    That prompted the dancers' union, The American Guild of Variety Artists, to send a stern note to the Rockettes, stating, "Any talk of boycotting this event is invalid... if you are full time, you are obligated." 

    But Madison Square Garden Co., which employs the dancers, said Friday no dancers are being compelled to attend the event.

    "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," the company said in a statement. "In fact, for the coming inauguration, we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available."

    James Dolan, the president of Madison Square Garden Co., announced Thursday the Rockettes would be performing at the inauguration, saying in a press release, "We are honored that the Rockettes have again been asked to perform in the upcoming inauguration festivities."

    The backlash was immediate, and one Rockette, Phoebe Pearl, said in a private Instagram post that she was "embarrassed and disappointed" to appear at the event. 

    "The women I work with are intelligent and are full of love, and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we're against is appalling," she wrote, according to The New York Post. 

    "I am speaking for myself but please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts #notmypresident," Pearl added. 

    The American Guild of Variety Artists later sent an email to members saying the union was contacted by a Rockette dancer expressing concern about performing at the inauguration. 

    "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 from the union stated, according to BroadwayWorld.com. 

    The email went on to say, "Everyone has a right to an opinion, but this does not change your employment status for those who are full time."

    "This has nothing to do with anyone's political leanings (including AGVA's), it has to do with your best performance for your employer, period. I will reiterate that if Hillary Clinton was the President-elect, nothing would be different, and there would probably be those who would not want to be involved because of her. It is a job, and all of you should consider it an honor, no matter who is being sworn in. The election is over and this country will not survive if it remains divided."

    The email, sent by a high-ranking member of the union's administration, then continued in bold, underlined font, according to BroadwayWorld.com: "If you are not full time, you do not have to sign up to do this work. If you are full time, you are obligated. Doing the best performance to reflect an American Institution which has been here for over 90 years is your job. I hope this pulls into focus the bottom line on this work." 

    The Rockettes usually have about 36 dancers, with 12 employed full-time and the rest freelance, TheWrap.com reports, citing a former Rockettes employee. 

    Though Madison Square Garden Company says Rockettes won't face consequences for not participating in the inauguration, many on social media believed attendance was mandatory and called on people to lodge complaints with the Rockettes' employer. 

    One Rockette who wanted to remain anonymous told NBC 4 New York exclusively why her fellow dancers were so disappointed in being called on to perform at the inauguration.

    "I think that any sort of mixed message wouldn't be sending the right positive attitude toward these young women that we're trying to empower," she said Friday. "We are just trying to spread joy and love, and I think that a lot of women are worried that because of things that have been said from him, we would be sending the wrong message."

    The woman added, "We get so many young girls coming to us, saying, 'I want to be just like you when I grow up,' so I feel like performing in the inauguration would just promote something that we don't stand for." 

    The Rockettes dancers' union has not responded to NBC 4 New York's request for comment.  

    Trump has had some difficulty securing stars to perform at his inauguration, though the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and 16-year-old former "America's Got Talent" contestant Jackie Evancho have agreed to sing. 

    Elton John, Celine Dion, Garth Brooks and Andrea Bocelli have declined invitations to participate in the inauguration, TheWrap.com reports. 

    Trump has claimed A-list celebrities are trying to get tickets to the event, "but look what what they did for Hillary, NOTHING," he tweeted. "I want the PEOPLE!" 

    The Rockettes, who have performed at Radio City Music Hall since the 1930s, have previously appeared in Super Bowl halftime shows, Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades and George W. Bush's inaugurations in 2001 and 2005.