According to federal election records compiled by Open Secrets, James Dolan, the New York Knicks owner and executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company, which manages the Rockettes, cut a check for $2,700 to Trump in early September 2016. Dolan also donated money to several state Republican parties late last year, shortly before the election, including to those in Arkansas, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kansas, and Louisiana, according to these publicly available records. These donations ranged from $868 to $10,000, the largest amount, which went to North Carolina’s GOP.
Dolan and his public-relations team say Dolan having the Rockettes perform at Trump’s inauguration has nothing to do with his political giving or his own politics.
“In the Rockettes’ previous two [inaugural] appearances, Mr. Dolan supported Mr. Gore and Mr. Kerry—and this year Mr. Dolan has supported Mr. Trump,” Barry Watkins, MSG chief communications officer, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday afternoon in a statement.
It is true that Dolan, much like the president-elect himself, has donated to Democrats in the past. In March 2007, Dolan donated $2,300 to Hillary Clinton, who would soon go on to lose the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama, and then eight years later lose a general election to Trump.
And as the inauguration to kick off the start of the Trump era fast approaches, some members of Dolan’s dancing group are agonizing over the Rockettes’ role in Trump’s first day as leader of the free world.
“The social media backlash on both sides of the political spectrum has been unbearable, I think,” said one dancer at a private meeting Dolan convened with the dancers to address the controversy and concerns surrounding Trump and the upcoming performance, according to Marie Claire. “Especially as someone who has loved and respected the Rockettes since I was three years old. I think that the Rockettes have always been apolitical, and now by performing at this particular inauguration, it’s making us political.”
Dolan reportedly responded that he had not seen any hate aimed at the Rockettes coming from the pro-Trump side. She replied, “I’ve had people messaging me: ‘Just shut up and dance.’”
“We were #1 trending on Twitter and it’s just really hard to see, especially our faces being likened to Nazis,” the Rockette told the magazine.
The Rockettes have been told by their management that they should “be tolerant of intolerance” as the dancing group approaches its scheduled performance at the inauguration.
Following Trump’s surprise victory in the election in November, the Republican president-elect and his team have struggled to attract top, A-list talent to perform at his inauguration festivities—a fact that has reportedly made Trump “very unhappy.” These difficulties are largely due to the fact that Trump’s bigoted, right-wing nationalist campaign disgusted many of the (mostly pro-Clinton) celebrities and Hollywood stars Trump wishes to lure.
The Rockettes are so far the only household name Team Trump has managed to book for this year’s inaugural gig.
“Performing for a man that stands for everything we’re against is appalling,” one Rockette, dancer Phoebe Pearl, wrote on her Instagram account late last month. “Mary,” a pseudonym for one of the Rockettes, later told Marie Claire that to her knowledge no women of color had signed up to perform at Trump’s inauguration. “It’s almost worse to have 18 pretty white girls behind this man who supports so many hate groups,” she said.
“There’s a reason why everyone else is turning this down. Why are we not?” she continued. “This is not a Republican or Democrat issue—this is a women’s rights issue.”
“I mean, it just sounds like you’re asking us to be tolerant of intolerance,” one dancer reportedly said during the private Dec. 27 meeting with Dolan.
“Yeah, in a way, I guess we are doing that,” Dolan replied, who had additionally noted that “a good portion of people voted for this person” and that “hopefully they will like” the Rockettes. “What other choices do we have? What else would you suggest?” MSG would later release a statement bashing the Rockette’s leak to Marie Claire as “deceitful and cowardly and has betrayed all of her fellow Rockettes.” The company has also repeatedly insisted that participation is “voluntary” and that a number of Rockettes have signed up.
When asked by one woman in the room if the scheduled performance means that the Rockettes support Trump, Dolan said “no.”