What started innocently as an intimate relationship quickly turned sour when School of American Ballet student Alexandra Waterbury learned that her boyfriend of the time, New York City Ballet principal dancer Chase Finlay, had been recording explicit videos of her without her consent and sharing nude photos of her with other employees of the company. In 2018, she sued, hoping to prove the Ballet had failed to protect her. Two years later, nearly all of her claims would be dismissed.
Today, on International Dance Day, Waterbury, the plaintiff in what would become a bombshell lawsuit against one of America’s most storied arts institutions, isn’t celebrating at the studio. Instead, she’s celebrating a renewed opportunity to seek justice against the New York City Ballet, a company she alleges fostered a “fraternity-like” workplace that led to the violation of her body and rights and destroyed her reputation in ballet’s exclusive club.
According to court documents filed Thursday in New York’s Supreme Court of Manhattan, an appellate court reinstated the NYC Ballet as a defendant in what could be a landmark case for protecting young people in balletic institutions. The court found that Waterbury had, in fact, “sufficiently alleged that defendant New York City Ballet, Inc. (NYCB) knew of its employees’–principal ballet dancers’—harmful propensities, failed to take appropriate action, and caused her harm.”
“This happened so long ago, and I’m trying to kind of live my life, so I really wasn’t expecting it,” Waterbury told Jezebel in a phone interview. “After so many things being dismissed by the original judge, I had just kind of lost hope for a lot of it and had been trying to come to terms with that. But I think it’s cool that [NYCB] will have to at least acknowledge the situation, whereas before, they’re just like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t exist. It’s not real. This didn’t happen. We’re not responsible. We don’t care.’”
Waterbury had studied at the School of American Ballet, NYCB’s affiliated training academy, from 2013-2016, where she met and began Finlay. She later discovered that Finlay had taken nude photographs and videos of her performing explicit sex acts during moments of private intimacy, and sent them to other employees of the company, often accompanied by degrading language. After an internal investigation, Finlay resigned from the company.
As shown in court documents, Finlay texted photos of Waterbury and claimed, “I’m trying to get a sex tape with her cause I know that shot would sell,” as well as asking other men for pictures of girls they’d had sex with in exchange for pictures of “ballerina girls I’ve made scream and squirt.” In another exchange, Jared Longhitano, a junior board member of NYCB, wrote to Finlay and former principal dancer Zachary Catazaro that “we should get like half a kilo and pour it over the ABT girls and just violate them. I bet we could tie some of them up and abuse them like farm animals,” to which Finlay responded “or like the sluts they are.”
In 2020, a judge had dismissed most of the legal claims made by Waterbury in her 2018 lawsuit, which she had filed at just 20 years old against the NYCB, several of its male principal dancers, and a junior board member. Namely, the judge dismissed Waterbury’s claims that the NYCB not only knew that its employees had previously engaged in harmful or misogynistic behavior, but that the institution had failed to take action against its male dancers, subsequently failing to protect Waterbury from the ensuing explicit photos and videos that were taken without her consent and shared with other members of the company. Now, Waterbury gets a second chance to prove that NYCB was in part responsible for what happened to her under its watch.
“I try not to follow much of dance anymore. It really is upsetting that I had dedicated 20 years of my life to the art and then I lost all of it,” Waterbury said. “But they’ve always been let off the hook, and it’s crazy that that’s not the case anymore.”
In an Instagram post on Friday, Waterbury wrote: “Me, still sitting here four years later, when the appellate court decided to reverse the decision that dismissed the NYC Ballet. Welcome to accountability, responsibility, and justice.” In her stories, she continued, “Grateful that four years later the legal system will hear my case against the NYC Ballet.”
Jezebel has contacted the NYCB for a comment on this matter. Responding to the 2020 dismissal, however, a spokesman for the NYCB, Rob Daniels, has said before that he was “pleased that the court recognized that the company bears no responsibility in this matter.” Charles W. Scharf, the chairman of the board, had said that the company “has no liability for the actions specified in the complaint and has taken the appropriate disciplinary actions for the dancers involved.”
As detailed in the appellate court’s decision, Waterbury’s allegations that NYCB “implicitly encouraged” the men’s misogynistic behavior were affirmed. The original complaint included an incident in which a group of dancers including Finlay were fined for hosting a party in DC in which they had given underage girls drugs and alcohol. Waterbury alleged that NYCB ordered their employees to “limit this behavior to New York City,” rather than suspending or firing the men, which she argues contributed to a culture in which exploiting young women was not only ignored and condoned, but could have been prevented. At the time Finlay allegedly violated Waterbury, NYCB had also failed to properly condemn top choreographer Peter Martins, who silently retired amidst physical and sexual abuse allegations.
In additional efforts to discredit Waterbury, court documents show that Finlay had tried to prove that he was the victim, weaponizing her mental health by pointing to her “emotional instability [and] extraordinary fits of jealousy that would evolve into paroxysmal, violent rage.” Finlay’s response also included images of Waterbury’s leotard business, claiming she used the fame from the lawsuit to benefit financially.
This recent reversal comes at a particularly fraught time within the field of ballet, providing a much-needed sigh of relief for the young women who have been sexually abused, mistreated, and silenced under the noses of the schools and studios meant to protect them. This case could change the tide of companies being held accountable for the actions of their employees, regardless of stature, placing further responsibility on institutions to not only chastise but to actively prevent harm from occurring to their dance, most of which are young women.
But Waterbury points to the Scottish Ballet, which now has intimacy directors and workshops, as proof that the version of ballet that had demeaned and left her stranded was, in fact, changing. “Even a company taking the initiative to acknowledge these things happen under our roof and on our watch, and that we are creating the environment where it happens is rare because, yes, being physical with another person is usually a part of being a dancer,” she said. “I think my case has shown people that a lot of these situations, even though they’re commonplace, are not acceptable,” Waterbury said.
It’s been four years since Waterbury initially filed suit: four years of protesting, conducting interviews, speaking out, and fighting for her right to be protected. Now, however, she’s just ready to move on. She still models and takes the occasional ballet class to stay in shape. In the fall, she’s headed to law school saying goodbye to the city. She says she still loves ballet: She simply wants it to be better. “All of this change is a really good thing,” she said. “And hopefully we’ll make this field more enjoyable and less toxic.”