The Rockettes have been booked to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration in January. According to news reports, performers’ concerns over performing at the inauguration of a man whose views on women have been proven deplorable time and again were met with indifference from their union, the American Guild of Variety Artists. The below letter from our director, Dustin M. Wax, was sent to AGVA today.
To Whom It May Concern;
My name is Dustin Wax and I am the director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame (BHoF). We are sister organizations of a sort — BHoF was founded by Jennie Lee, president of the Exotic Dancers League (EDL), an AGVA section, as part of their 1965 annual meeting. From there, it took on a life of its own and was incorporated as an independent entity in 1998.
Jennie Lee founded the EDL in 1955 because AGVA was not representing the interests of exotic dancers, despite the fact that exotic dancers made up a huge part of AGVA’s membership. AGVA’s failings were driven home in the early ‘60s, when the Kefauver committee turned its attention to burlesque houses and found AGVA doing little or nothing to protect its dues-paying members from exploitation and prostitution in Mob-owned clubs. Only in Los Angeles, the EDL’s home base, where the EDL actively fought for the rights of their members as artists and women, did the Kefauver committee find minimal Mob involvement and a protected workforce.
Today, we see AGVA failing again to actively protect the artists on its rolls. Perhaps no dancers in American society are more well-known and revered than the Radio City Rockettes, who have recently been told that their union – YOUR union – will not stand up for those of their number who refuse to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration. While certainly their employer has a right to book gigs as they choose, your role is not to protect the rights of the employer – your job is to protect the rights of the dancers and performers who have appointed you as their representative.
In your memo to the full-time Rockettes, you claim that politics has no place in business. As a union, you know otherwise, of course — employment is inherently political. For well over a year, now, we’ve learned about Donald Trump’s heinous behavior towards women, and particularly towards women performers, whether it’s vile comments on their weight and appearance, off-hand references about sexual assault, or downright threatening behavior against women who have publicly questioned his proposed policies and personal demeanor. As prominent female performers, the Rockettes should be applauded for standing up and being counted as women opposed to the actions and beliefs of the president-elect. And they should have the power of their union at their back when they do.
As an organization devoted to preserving and telling the stories of women performers, BHoF supports the Rockettes who choose not to lend their bodies and talent to the inauguration of Donald Trump. I call on AGVA to take a stand for your members, to work to protect their right to freedom of expression as artists and as women. It is your duty and it is a fight worth fighting.
Dustin M. Wax
Executive Director, Burlesque Hall of Fame