News

Trocks Dancer Resigns, Accuses Company of Discrimination and Harassment

Yakatarina Verbosovitch (Chase Johnsey) in Paquita. Via Instagram @chasejohnsey

When a young dancer with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo named Chase Johnsey was chosen as one of our "25 to Watch" ten years ago, Dance Magazine contributor Joseph Carman wrote, "Chase Johnsey (aka Yakatarina Verbosovitch and her danseur alter-ego Roland Daulin) uses his brilliant technique and delicate quality to blur gender lines to the point of spooky illusion. The petite 22-year-old, Florida-born, diva is so convincing that if you plunked him down into the cast of ABT's La Bayadère as one of the Shades, no one would blink an eyelash." His career since has been a successful one, winning critical acclaim and the U.K.'s National Dance Award for best male dancer last year as well as being featured in the recent Trocks documentary.

So it came as a huge surprise last week when Johnsey announced his resignation from the company after 14 years. But even more shocking are the reasons he gave for leaving what he describes as his dream job.


In a video posted to YouTube, Johnsey says that he no longer believes the company stands for openness and gender freedom. He claims that he and other dancers have been mistreated, sexually harassed and discriminated against for appearing too feminine in classes and rehearsals, adding, "We're being bullied for expressing our femininity and we're being given ultimatums just because we don't live up to some masculine idea of what a gay man is....So I'm throwing away my dream job for what I believe in."

Further, Johnsey, who identifies as gender queer, cites an incident in 2012 when he was told that should he choose to transition, as he was considering at the time, he would no longer be allowed to perform with the company. He says, "I believe that trans people should have a place in ballet, and I think Trockaderos should be the first to have that even though they advertise us as 'men on pointe.' " He later posted several follow-up videos, one of which clarified that while this was not the reason he chose to resign, the company's stance on this issue is one with which he disagrees.

In response to a request for comment, the company issued the following statement:

"The management and board of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo were surprised and sorry to learn of the claims by Chase Johnsey. Our professional, all-male comedy ballet company has a proud history of service to the gay and transgender communities, and has been a pioneer of inclusiveness for 44 years. We welcome and foster a diverse array of dancers, employees and audience members. Therefore, we take Chase's concerns very seriously. The board has hired an independent, outside expert to investigate the allegations. We will take whatever measures necessary to address the findings of the investigation. At this time, however, the board is not aware of any discrimination, harassment or retaliation against Chase or any other member of the Trockadero. Management denies the allegations."

We'll keep you posted as the situation unfolds.

Update: Johnsey reached out to DM after seeing the statement made by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. He stands by his previous statements.

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When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

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Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

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Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

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Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

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