Los Angeles – Hundreds of cheering “fans” will pour onto the court as hip-hop dream team Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Dr. Dre, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar perform during the Super Bowl halftime show LVI on February 13. see them move their bodies to the rhythm of the music. What they won’t see is the 72 hours they spent over nine days in unpaid rehearsals of up to nine hours straight – and how they were asked to provide their own transport and adhere to a strict confidentiality protocol.
Field cast participants – dancers, actors, singers and aspiring musicians recruited from local drill teams as well as theatre, community and sports groups – should be grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but the situation is causing a stir in the community. dance community after dance artist and activist Taja Riley told her 110,000 Instagram followers about it. Other performers, including dancer Alyson Stoner and Heather Morris (“Glee”), have since spoken about it on social media.
Speaking directly to the halftime show’s choreographer Fatima Robinson, Riley implored the dance world icon to advocate for better treatment of talent.
“I think in a performance that will primarily spotlight African American movers, African American entertainers, and African American culture – Inglewood rises – I think this is an opportunity… to really step in and to do something about it,” Riley said. in her live video, adding that the opportunity was made bigger because it’s Black History Month and as an African-American woman, Robinson is a powerful symbol in the industry.
In a later interview with the Los Angeles Times, Riley said that Robinson blocked her on Instagram, and as a longtime fan of Robinson’s work, she was disappointed.
“It’s way bigger than the Super Bowl,” said Riley, who is the daughter of record producer Teddy Riley and has danced alongside Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. “This is another example of the systemic problem in the dance industry where we feel we are intimidated to raise 1/8 by participating for only 3/8 exposure or we risk being blacklisted if we express ourselves.”
Riley has worked as a paid dancer in two previous Super Bowl halftime shows, and she did not audition for this year’s performance. But she felt compelled to speak out after learning that Bloc LA, a leading agency representing dancers in Los Angeles, had reached out to clients with the opportunity to volunteer.
Riley posted an email from a Block client who had been selected to serve as the “group leader” for the on-the-spot casting performance that read in part, “Speaking with the casting manager, she told me asked if I knew anyone who would be open to the opportunity/experience and clarified that she wanted “mostly African American movers”.
LA Block declined to comment after a request from the LA Times. But in an interview with the LA Times, Robinson said she was represented by Bloc and that’s why the call was made by the agency – to see if any clients knew of people who would like to volunteer.
“We don’t ask dancers to work as dancers for free,” Robinson said. “What was asked was, ‘Would anyone like to volunteer for the casting on the ground? “”
Casting director Kristen Terry said the language regarding “African American movers” was never part of the official casting call, but it’s possible someone had articulated it in a conversation at any given time.
“We wanted to ensure diverse exposure on the pitch,” Terry said.
Jana Fleishman, executive vice president of strategy and communications for Roc Nation, which produces the Super Bowl halftime show, released a statement to The Times saying, “No one working with this show has contacted an agency to ask professional dancers to volunteer. Finally, we strictly follow and adhere to all SAG-AFTRA guidelines.
“We know firsthand the level of passion, talent, creativity and long days of preparation it takes to pull off a performance of this caliber and so it’s important that we address the current narrative,” Fleischman wrote. “We totally agree that all dancers should be paid for their craft and that’s why we employ 115 professional dancers who perform alongside the headliners. The professional dancers are completely separate from volunteer and non-choreographed cast of pitch As in past years, it is entirely up to the volunteer candidates to participate, volunteers are not asked to learn the choreography.
The cast on the ground, Robinson said, is meant to represent the people heading to a concert, “to fill the space and bring energy to the performers performing on the stage we’ve designed.” The only requirement to be recruited as a volunteer is to be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time”, she added.
Robinson said the call for paid dancers came from most major dance agencies in Los Angeles. The 400 field distribution volunteers, she said, are recruited from elsewhere.
“When a dancer comes to LA, they want every opportunity to be a part of something in Hollywood – how can they learn and experience something?” said Robinson. “The same way people volunteer for Coachella and the Olympics – to have the experience, to be there, to be in the event. The Super Bowl has done that every year; this year doesn’t was no different.
Riley says this kind of thinking about the value of work and the meaning of unpaid work is largely outdated, especially after the protests for social justice and reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd – and amid a pandemic that poses additional risks for volunteers.
“Four hundred mostly unpaid black workers during Black History Month with black creators and black artists — that’s unacceptable,” Riley said. “Whether it’s one volunteer or 400, every person working on the most profitable event of the year should be paid.”
Riley added emphasis on the historical obscurity of the value placed on artists’ time and labor. “You basically contract with hundreds of black-owned businesses because I consider myself a black-owned business.”
Robinson pointed out that she started her career dancing for free before becoming an extra in the 1991 film “Boyz n the Hood.” She has worked in the industry for more than 30 years and is at the top of her game, she added.
“If a dancer is waiting for a job to happen, but you can be on the court for the Super Bowl, why wouldn’t you want to do it?” said Robinson. “The last thing I want to do is take advantage of hard-working dancers.”
Asked about the 72 hours of rehearsal required of volunteers, Terry replied that it was a matter of security.
“They need to feel comfortable,” Terry said, adding that volunteers need to know where the cables, camera and pyrotechnics are on the pitch, and how to enter and exit the pitch in a safe and orderly manner.