Rockettes asked to be 'tolerant of intolerance' in Trump inauguration performance brouhaha, as Madison Square Garden boss says, 'I gotta sell tickets'

The Rockettes perform during the 43rd presidential inauguration celebrations.
Bassignac | Gamma-Rapho | Getty Images

Kick up your legs for Donald Trump — and for profits at Radio City Music Hall.

The boss of New York City's famed Radio City Music Hall reportedly told the theater's Rockettes dance troupe that performing at Trump's presidential inauguration could help draw business from Trump voters.

"I gotta sell tickets," said James Dolan, CEO of Madison Square Garden, the hall's owner, according to a report Tuesday on MarieClaire.com about a meeting he had with the Rockettes last week.

Dolan noted that he was going to spend $50 million remounting the Rockettes' summer show and an identical amount for next winter's Christmas show — money that needs to be recouped from paying customers, according to the report.

"A good portion of people voted for this person," Dolan said of Trump.

"Hopefully they will like our brand. If 1 percent of 1 percent of them come to our show, we're going to do great," Dolan told the Rockettes, according to the report.

The meeting with the Rockettes was called after a controversy exploded over their announced performance for Trump. At least several members have expressed concerns about dancing for the president-elect given given past accusations against him of sexual harassment and racism.

An article by Marie Claire.com last week quoted a dancer saying that one of her co-workers wept during a recent performance at Radio City after learning of the inaugural show.

"She felt she was being forced to perform for this monster," the dancer told MarieClaire.com last week.

Dancers at the meeting with Dolan said they have received harsh criticism of Rockettes by Trump supporters angry that any of them would object to performing at the inauguration, according to the new MarieClaire.com article.

But Dolan said that he has received emails, saying, "Don't perform for this hateful person."

"And then they proceed to spew out this diatribe of hate," Dolan added.

"It just sounds like you're asking us to be tolerant of intolerance," one Rockette reportedly said to Dolan.

"Yeah, in a way, I guess we are doing that," Dolan said. "What other choices do we have? What else would you suggest."

Dolan also said "we'll probably dance on July 4" at Independence Day festivities in Washington, likely for then-President Trump.

"And hopefully, nobody will have problems with that."

He said that full-time dancers, while being allowed to opt out of the inauguration show, would not be able to boycott the July Fourth performance.

The decision by Dolan to have the Rockettes perform for Trump sparked a backlash late last month.

After at least once dancer voiced worry about the planned show, the troupe's union sent the dancers a stern email saying "any talk of boycotting this event is invalid" and that "there is no room" for political beliefs in the workplace.

The union, the American Guild of Variety Artists, told the troupe that all full-time dancers, of which there a dozen or so, "are obligated" to dance for Trump.

When that email was publicly disclosed, many people expressed support for the Rockettes not being forced to perform.

Madison Square Garden soon afterward put out a statement saying that no one would be forced to do so, full-time or otherwise.

"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."

At last week's meeting, on the heels of that comment, Dolan called the inaugural "a great national event," and said, "I think it's very appropriate that the Rockettes dance in the inaugural and the Fourth of July."

"We are an American brand," he said, according to Marie Claire.

The article noted that when one dancer asked if that meant that the Rockettes supported Trump outright, Dolan responded, "No."

"I don't believe it's going to hurt the brand," Dolan also said.

In a statement to CNBC about the Marie Claire story, Madison Square Garden spokesman Barry Watkins said: "This is one person who continues to attempt to represent the entire team of Rockettes." That was a reference to MSG's claim that the article is based on a single source.

"This time it's in a story that is the result of an unauthorized recording that violated the confidentiality of all of her sister Rockettes," Watkins said. "While Mr. Dolan stands behind everything he said during the meeting, no one in that room believed they were speaking publicly. Everyone in the meeting had the chance to speak their mind in a safe setting, and many did."

"Her secret recording was deceitful and cowardly and has betrayed all of her fellow Rockettes," Watkins said. "Posting this story is beneath the ethical standards of Hearst (Marie Claire's publisher). We are deeply disappointed in their decision to post this story."

MarieClaire.com has not responded to CNBC's request for comment on Watkins' statement.

— CNBC's Michelle Castillo contributed to this story.