The Radio City Rockettes performed at the “Celebration of Freedom” concert on Jan. 19, 2005, in Washington as part of the inauguration festivities for President George W. Bush. Credit Mike Segar/Reuters
Within hours of confirming plans to appear at the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, the Radio City Rockettes were plunged into a maelstrom of social media outrage on Friday amid reports that the performers were contractually obligated to dance at the ceremony or lose their jobs.
But as the day wore on, both the Madison Square Garden Company, which manages the Rockettes, and the dancers’ union, the American Guild of Variety Artists, said that any of the dancers could opt out of the Jan. 20 performance in Washington.
The day of statements followed reports that a Rockette was “embarrassed and disappointed” that the decision to perform had been made for her. The dancer’s private Instagram post was published by the gossip website Perez Hilton and quoted widely by news outlets. That dancer, Phoebe Pearl, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday, nor did several of her fellow performers.
Not long after those reports, a statement relayed through Mikyl Cordova, a spokeswoman for the Madison Square Garden Company, said that dancers’ appearances are voluntary.
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“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,” the statement read. “It is always their choice.”

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The statement also said that, among the dancers, Mr. Trump’s inauguration has been a popular opportunity: “In fact, for the coming inauguration, we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available. We eagerly await the inaugural celebrations.” Nonetheless, the company did not respond to further inquiries or make any dancers available for interviews.
Despite these assurances, many of the women may feel under pressure to perform. Much of the fear and confusion could be traced to an email sent on Thursday night by the union to some of the dancers.
“If you are full time, you are obligated,” said that message, which was forwarded to The New York Times. “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.”
Union officials did not return any calls, but on Friday evening, the guild said on Facebook that it had reached an agreement with the company that would allow all employees, even full-time dancers, to opt out of the inauguration. It said the earlier email to its members had simply been an explanation of the existing contract.
The pressure to perform at the inauguration ceremony will probably vary based on the circumstances of each Rockette, according to a performer who spent five years with the company.
Heather Lang, a contemporary dancer who left the Rockettes in 2009, said in a phone interview that there are about 12 full-time dancers who perform in both winter and spring shows. They are a minority of the company, which has about 80 Rockettes. All of the dancers were seasonal until about a year ago.
The Rockettes performing in the “Christmas Spectacular” show at Radio City Music Hall in 2013. Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Ms. Lang, 35, said that for full-time and seasonal dancers, there is a fear of jeopardizing their future employment and of compromising their standing in the eyes of James L. Dolan, the executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company, and his executives, if they complain or try to bow out.
“One of the most annoying situations about that job is it’s corporate,” Ms. Lang said. “It’s not like a Broadway show where you feel like you have an artistic voice. You’re sort of owned by this corporation.”
So even if an appearance is considered voluntary, individual Rockettes may feel forced to perform if they are told that executives want them onstage in Washington.
Ms. Lang said that performers are drawn to the company for the honor of dancing at Radio City Music Hall — as well as for the health benefits.
Many of the women have feared standing up for themselves in the current controversy, she said. “Everybody’s in fear of losing their job.”
The idea that Rockettes could be forced to perform prompted anger on Twitter among actors, performers and other celebrities, who began widely circulating contact information for the company, the Rockettes’s producers and their union.
Chris Pappas, a tour guide with Radio City Music Hall, said employees there were angry.
“I can say that as a member of the tour guide staff, we have discussed it, and it has upset us,” Mr. Pappas said in a telephone interview. “It’s not saying the Rockettes are invited to perform. It’s saying that the Rockettes will perform.”
Donald Trump and the Radio City Rockettes during a ceremony at Trump Tower in November 2004. Credit Scott Gries/Getty Images
In announcing the appearance, Mr. Dolan said in a statement on Thursday that the Rockettes were “treasured American icons,” and noted that they had performed at the inaugurations of George W. Bush in 2001 and 2005.
The dance company, known for pearly smiles and high kicks, is one of the most recognizable holiday institutions of the president-elect’s hometown, and one of the few performers to confirm an appearance so far. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which has performed at previous presidential inaugurations, confirmed its appearance on Thursday. On Friday, a petition was circulating among people who were urging the group to reconsider.
Last week, Boris Epshteyn, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, confirmed in an email that the 16-year-old opera singer Jackie Evancho would be performing the national anthem at the event, calling her a “true role model and inspiration for people young and old in our country and around the globe.”
Other performers, including the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and the singer Elton John, have both said in recent days that, contrary to rumors, they would not be performing.
In between commenting on Twitter about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and addressing business conflicts of interest within his family, the president-elect took time on Thursday evening to assure the nation that he did not want A-list celebrities attending his inauguration.
“I want the PEOPLE!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
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