Dance or else: Rockettes were pressured by union to perform at Trump's inauguration, but some don't want to

The Rockettes perform on stage during the 'Christmas Spectacular Starring The Radio City Rockettes' at Radio City Music Hall on November 15, 2016 in New York City.
Monica Schipper | WireImage | Getty Images

Don't even THINK about dropping out of that kick line.

Radio City Music Hall's legendary Rockettes dance troupe reportedly was sternly warned by their own union not to boycott their planned performance at inauguration festivities next month for President-elect Donald Trump — who has been having a yuuuuuuggeely difficult time scrounging up "A-List" performers willing to show up for those events.

The Rockettes' union originally told the troupe to hit the stage for Trump — or possibly be forced to hit the bricks by the Madison Square Garden Co., owner of the famed music hall in New York City.

But after news of that broke, Madison Square Garden on Friday said no one is being forced by the company to do a high step for the president-elect.

Later Friday, the union changed its tone about the issue, saying there had been a "legitimate concern" among Rockettes and others about their performing for Trump. And the union said it was "greatly relieved" the MSG was making the performance voluntary.

The union's initial huffy message to the hoofers came after one Rockette had written the group's union that she was concerned "about getting 'involved in a dangerous political climate,'" according to an email from that union, the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Other Rockettes reportedly have made clear, via social media and to people in show business, that they are not happy about having to perform for Trump.

One Rockette, according to the PerezHilton news site, posted a photo of her and other members of the group onstage with the words, "Not my President!" drawn coming from her mouth, and a caption that said it was "appalling" to have to perform "for a man that stands for everything we're against."

But the union at first brushed such concerns aside in its email.

"I must remind you that you are all employees, and as a company, Mr. Dolan obviously wants the Rockettes to be represented at our country's Presidential inauguration, as they were in 2001 and 2005," said the email from the AGVA, which was reported by the industry news site BroadwayWorld. The reference to Mr. Dolan is to James Dolan, CEO of MSG.

"Any talk of boycotting this event is invalid, I'm afraid," the email said.

"Everyone is entitled to her own political beliefs, but there is no room for this in the workplace," the email said.

It also said that "we have been made aware of what is going on Facebook and other social media, however, this does not change anything unless Radio City has a change of heart."

"The ranting of the public is just that, ranting," the email said. "Everyone has a right to an opinion, but this does not change your employment status for those who are full time."

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BroadwayWorld noted that the email further said, in bold, underlined lettering, "If you are not full time, you do not have to sign up to do this work. If you are full time, you are obligated."

But in an email statement Friday, the Madison Square Garden Co. said, "The Radio City Rockettes are proud to participate in the 58th Presidential Inaugural. 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."

"It is always their choice," the company said. "In fact, for the coming inauguration, we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available. We eagerly await the inaugural celebrations."

Hours after MSG issued that statement, amid a stinging backlash to the union's stance, he American Guild of Variety Artists issued a statement to the press that was now supportive of its members, instead of scolding.

"MSG's announcement that the Rockettes were being included in the Presidential inaugural has brought up legitimate concern among our Members, the theatrical community and the public at large," the union said..

"We took this very seriously and immediately contacted Radio City for a meeting to address this volatile situation. This is always the first course of action in a labor-management issue or dispute," the union said. "Fortunately, the Company has agreed that ALL participation in this particular event will be voluntary. We are greatly relieved and hope to work with our Members to inform them and alleviate the anxiety and fears that this has caused."

"There has also been a considerable amount of misinformation about the Union's position. The Union never 'demanded' that the Rockettes perform at the inauguration. A message was sent to the Rockettes last evening that stated the terms of their contract," the union said.

"There is a small group of year round Rockettes who are contractually obligated to perform at scheduled events throughout the year. We are pleased that Radio City has agreed that for those Rockettes with year-round employment,participation in this event will be voluntary as well."

"AGVA is proud of its long history of rejecting sexism, racism, homophobia and all forms of discrimination and harassment in the workplace," the union said.

CNBC has reached out for comment on the Rockettes controversy to Trump's transition team.

In addition to the Rockettes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is also scheduled to perform for Trump's inaugural festivities. So is Jackie Evancho, a 16-year-old who has appeared on the TV show "America's Got Talent."

Earlier this week, the show-business trade news site TheWrap reported that Trump was so unhappy about the difficulty his team has had wrangling A-list performers for the inaugural events that "he's ordered a 'Hail Mary' shake-up of his recruiters to try to book performers."

"Mark Burnett, who produces 'Celebrity Apprentice' with Trump and has been overseeing entertainment for inauguration festivities, has brought in talent recruiter Suzanne Bender, a former 'Dancing With the Stars' and 'American Idol' booker, to end an effective freeze-out by Hollywood," TheWrap reported, quoting a Trump insider.

The move came after a number of celebrities reportedly nixed the idea of performing for Trump, including Celine Dion, Elton John, Garth Brooks, as well as Andrea Bocelli and the rock group Kiss.

Trump's inaugural chair has denied reports that Bocelli turned down Trump, saying that it was the tenor who offered to perform but was declined by Trump.

Trump seemingly responded to those reports on Thursday with an angry tweet that suggested celebrities were the ones pursuing his attention, instead of the other way around.


CNBC's Michelle Castillo contributed to this report.