Ailey Dancers Unite—And Boycott Their Own Gala

February 7, 2018

Everything was not business as usual at Tuesday’s Kennedy Center gala for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The party was missing an integral piece of the annual celebration: the dancers themselves.

The news was shared online yesterday via the Washington Post, which reports that the dancers are in the middle of renegotiating a three-year contract with their union, the American Guild of Musical Artists.

After their performance, rather than schmoozing with donors, the dancers left the building. Their absence didn’t stop the celebration, although donors had paid $1,000 (minimum) to dine and bump shoulders with the world-renowned Ailey dancers.

In concert with the gala boycott, #ArtistofAiley has begun to catch on via Instagram. The company’s AGMA dancers and stage managers started their own account, artistsofailey. Additional hashtags associated with display of unity have included #UnionStrong, #ReachingfortheStandard, #LovingWhatWeDo and #AGMA.

It’s rumored that the Ailey dancers are demanding a discussion that could increase what they see as substandard wages and benefits. Officially, a press release from AGMA said negotiations began in December for a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the current one, which expires May 31.

Leonard Egert
, national executive director of AGMA, writes in the release, “It is very concerning that Ailey’s artists, predominately African-American dancers, earn much less than dancers at comparable companies with similar or even smaller budgets.”

You can’t help but note that this is taking place during Black History Month.

According to recent tax filings, the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc—America’s fourth largest dance company in terms of budget—has over $178 million in net assets, slightly over $13 million in contributed revenue (fundraising events, grants, and gifts) and sells over $20 million worth of tickets and merchandise yearly.

Griff Braun, AGMA’s New York dance executive, added in the press release, “These artists put on more performances than any other major dance company in the United States—175 to 200 per year—with only one-third to one-half the number of dancers at other companies.”

Artistic director Robert Battle made no official comment to the Washington Post about the boycott, but did say, “We will get through it, because there’s a reason that the Alvin Ailey dance company has withstood the test of time. We’re a big family, and sometimes we just need to talk, you know what I’m saying?”