Op-Ed: What's Missing in the Peter Martins Investigation

December 11, 2017

Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she’s been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there’s more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.

In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It’s painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.

That story is essentially this:

An abused and/or fatherless child is brought by an ambitious mother to the court of the fairytale castle to perform for the drunken king. The girl soon learns how to get and keep his attention—and roles in ballets. She learns how to maneuver in a deviant, alcoholic culture. She learns how to ignore boys her own age and seduce old rich men who write checks for the company. And—if she is smart—she marries one of them before she is 30. For by that age, she’s usually too old to dance.

One of my essays was published in Psychology Tomorrow magazine in 2012, and in light of the Harvey Weinstein accusations, I unearthed the link and posted it to my personal Facebook page. It sparked a conversation about the sexual misconduct and the abuse of power in the ballet world. The subject became Peter Martins. He is currently being investigated.

I have, to this date been contacted by all interested parties in the press, the School of American Ballet and the law firm conducting the investigation for both NYCB and SAB to speak out further about Martins. I have the utmost respect for Sarah Kaufman from The Washington Post, whom I worked with on this for months.

Kelly Cass Boal’s story of mental and physical abuse in The Washington Post paints a clear picture of that aspect.

Am I a victim of Martins abuse? Yes. Was it sexual? Yes. Was it consensual? No.

But my own trauma is a surmountable issue. What keeps me up at night is the thought of how many dancers still live in fear, subject to the confused sexuality and morality of these powerful people.

Why are they not educated, informed and protected? And who are the adults that turn their heads the other way, knowing what they know?

I pose this question: Is Martins being thrown under the bus to avoid addressing the larger, more deep-seated problem? Shouldn’t the board of directors of both organizations and all related organizations be a part of this investigation? Unearthing lurid details of past abuses for public consumption is, to me, far less important than exposing 35 years of cover-ups, mismanagement, greed and corruption—all of which created a toxic, dangerous work environment for generations of vulnerable dancers.

Thank you Dance Magazine for the opportunity to speak in my own voice!