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Sexual misconduct persists within ballet companies

Eden Leavey
Sexual abuse often goes unnoticed in the dance world, and the dismissive yet toxic culture follows dancers into ballet companies. In recent years, however, dancers have begun to come forward about their experiences.

Ballet is an art form that requires great discipline and dedication to succeed. One must learn to move and manipulate their body in unnatural ways to perform complex steps. Likewise, dancers are expected to follow directions immediately, apply corrections quickly and appear put-together all the time.

Unfortunately, these core values in ballet companies leave dancers more susceptible to grooming and more likely to interact with predators who will take advantage of them.

From a young age, dancers’ bodies are physically corrected by their instructors. While this may help improve alignment and build a strong technical foundation, it also normalizes dancers being touched without necessarily giving permission; consent becomes implied.

What’s more, dancers are often too afraid to report incidents of sexual assault in fear that doing so would reduce their prospects of a dance career. This anxiety has created a culture in the ballet world where young, impressionable dancers are sucked into a cycle of abuse by older, more experienced professionals.

Over the summer, two girls’ stories of sexual assault became public. Sage Humphries, a dancer with the Boston Ballet, and Gina Menichino, a teacher, choreographer and world-class dancer with the company Radiance, came forward about their experienced abuse.

Humphries and Menichino filed a lawsuit against former teacher Mitchell Taylor Button and his wife Dusty Button, a former principal dancer with the Boston Ballet.

The lawsuit accuses the Buttons of grooming and exploiting dancers as well as coercing them into sexual acts. Humphries said the Buttons also had absolute authority over her and demanded access to her phone. Likewise, Menichino received sexually explicit texts from Mitchell Taylor Button, and he promised her dance opportunities in exchange for sending the same type of texts.

However, this is only one of many instances to transpire in the ballet world, and these occurrences are induced by a culture where more experienced professionals hold excessive power over young or aspiring dancers.

In 2018, a former student at the School of American Ballet sued New York City Ballet and one of its principal dancers, who was her boyfriend at the time, for sexual exploitation.


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A post shared by Sage ? Humphries (@sagenicolehumphries)

Alexandra Waterbury first met Chase Finlay, an older professional dancer, while training at the School of American Ballet, and the two started dating soon after. A year and a half into their relationship, Waterbury discovered a group chat between Finlay and other male company members where they shared nude photos of their significant others. Waterbury found an explicit photo of herself that she claims had been taken without her knowledge let alone was aware of its circulation.

The event shed light on American ballet’s history of toxic masculinity and its normalization of activities such as locker room talk.

However, men too can fall victim to abuse in ballet companies. Choreographer Liam Scarlett worked as the Royal Ballet’s artist-in-residence before being suspended due to reported incidents of inappropriate behavior. Scarlett targeted his male students and requested they send him explicit photos, which once again came with the promise of a leading role.

Another story that came into the public’s eye last April regarded Yat-Sen Chang, former principal dancer of English National Ballet. Students reported Chang giving inappropriate massages and placing himself in sexual situations with the dancers.

While Chang was found guilty of sexual assault and his sentencing was scheduled for June 18, any indication of justice has gone unreported as the trial’s outcome and whether it even occurred has not been released to the public.


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A post shared by Gina Menichino (@ginamenichino)


As Humphries and Menichino await the outcome of their case, it is crucial others continue to speak out and advocate for justice – like this pair of dancers have been doing – so the story won’t get lost in a sea of media.

We must hold predators accountable for their actions and that starts with dancers sharing their experiences of sexual assault.

Nevertheless, when victims of sexual abuse come forward, they put themselves in a very vulnerable position. Dancers need to feel supported and be taken seriously when they speak up, which will also help others find the confidence to share their experiences.

Not only must the dance community work to reconcile the damage that has been done, but it needs to rebuild the foundation on which ballet stands. Directors and choreographers should be trained to build healthy, trusting relationships with their dancers and have the ability to identify any possible red flags in their dancers’ other relationships.

If dancers begin to see these changes, perhaps one day they will feel safe and fully supported in their ballet companies again.

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About the Contributor
Eden Leavey
Eden Leavey, Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Print
Eden Leavey (’24) is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Print of The Standard. Leavey’s passion for storytelling prompted her to join The Standard in Grade 9. Beyond journalism, she looks to tell stories through creative writing and photography as well as dance and movement. Separate from The Standard, Leavey leads the Sustainability Council and the Feminist Literature Book Club.

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