Earlier this year, Alexandra Waterbury sued her ex-boyfriend, a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, and the dance company after she found explicit photos and videos of her that were shared on a group text of other male dancers. She says the photos were taken without her consent.
Waterbury, who graduated from the School of American Ballet in 2016 and met ex-boyfriend, Chase Finlay, that same year, tells the Guardian in a new report that her story is not necessarily about Finlay but about a “boys’ club mentality” in the dance world. “Dance is not the issue,” she said. “It’s bigger institutions that are very much in it for money, very much in it for protecting an image and prolonging this lineage of something like [New York City Ballet founder George] Balanchine.”
The MeToo movement has clearly had some impact in the ballet world, encouraging dancers to speak up about alleged abuses from their male counterparts—but the institutions within the New York City dance community have been slow to respond to such accusations or reluctant to hold men accountable.
The New York Times reported in September that after Waterbury filed her lawsuit, Finlay resigned when the company “sought to question him” about her allegations. The company also “suspended two other principal dancers — Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro — without pay until next year, saying they had violated unspecified ‘norms of conduct.’”
But suspending dancers for unspecified reasons may not get at the heart of Waterbury’s complaint, which is that the ballet company fosters this sort of bad, frat boy-like behavior in its male dancers by failing to discipline them and in turn protecting them. The Times reports that Waterbury describes it in her lawsuit as “embolden[ing] [male dancers] to disregard the law and violate the basic rights of women.”
The Guardian’s reports illuminates how “[b]oys in ballet hold the power from a young age,” in part because fewer men try out than women. Kelly Boal, a former New York City Ballet dancer, said “We women are a dime a dozen, and there are a bunch of 14-year-olds coming up.”
The model of men in the ballet world stepping down after they’ve been accused of sexual harassment or misconduct without truly facing the consequences of their alleged actions has been seen before. Peter Martins, who took over the New York City Ballet and SAB from Balanchine, was accused early on in the MeToo movement of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse. He denied the accusations and then announced his retirement.
A dance historian told the Guardian, “There’s been no punishment and no accountability.” In September, Waterbury told the Times that when she sees young girls want to get into ballet, she finds herself thinking that “no one will protect her, like no one protected me.”