The Boston Ballet company provides a remarkable art education and “brings new levels of excellence to ballet both on and off the stage," however, beneath the pink tutu and ballet slipper facade of the Boston Ballet are stories of power and abuse. Stories that are not uncommon in youth athletics.
Former Boston Ballet principal ballerina Dusty Button and her husband, Mitchell Taylor Button, have been accused of sexually assaulting young dancers across the nation. The current case was brought to public attention this fall, despite discussions in 2010 of Mitchell engaging in sexual relationships with minors at the studio where he formally instructed dancers. Action was never taken by the studio and Mitchell left soon after rumors began to fester, citing his desire to be closer to Dusty.
Five dancers, some of them minors at the time, have come forward with their stories of Mitchell's abuse which at times involved Dusty's participation. Sage Humphries and Gina Menichino were the first dancers to come forward.
Humphries was sex trafficked by both the Buttons in 2016. Dusty and Mitchell enticed her to “cross state lines.. by using threats, intimidation, and the pretense that they would help further her career and professional development, in exchange for engaging in sex acts." Humphries says that the couple “had control over my phone and passwords to my Instagram, my email.” The Boston Ballet states they support dancer Sage Humphries, who still dances at the company, for bravely coming forward.
Menichino states the couple “groomed and abused her,” and was assaulted on two occasions in 2010 when Mitchell taught at her dance company. She reported this abuse to the police in 2018, and the police claimed they did not have sufficient evidence necessary to pursue a criminal case.
These instances of horrific abuse continued for years; Dusty and Mitchell used their power as highly influential figures in a competitive dance world to manipulate, control, and assault those in a vulnerable position. Such abuse of power is evident in the threats used by the perpetrators to ensure the dancers' silence; Dusty and Mitchell threatened to destroy the dance careers of their victims. These perverse predators have remained silent on their criminal actions, and have made their social media accounts private. Both currently deny the charges and walk free, unpunished. Their lawyer Marc Randazza stated, "We look forward to clearing both of their names in court.”
The Buttons are not the first to contribute to the traumatic narrative of sexual abuse in dance education. Harm inflicted on young athletes by figures responsible for their well-being—such as coaches, model lead athletes, and physicians—is a widespread issue; the tremendous number of athletes harmed by superiors is evident by the Buttons’ actions, as well as the abuse inflicted by physician Larry Nassar, figure skating coach Thomas Incantalupo, and Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.
The extensive and exhaustive process necessary to punish perpetrators and provide justice for victims sheds light on the reform needed to create a fair and supportive justice system. Not believing victims and allowing perpetrators to walk unpunished enforces practices of silencing victims rather than validating their bravery for coming forward.
Dance Magazine's recent publication of “5 Ways to Cope With Triggering News About Sexual Abuse in the Dance World,” shows the psychological impact that hearing stories of sexual abuse has on dancers and athletes in general. If one thing is clear, it is that there is a necessity to institute practices that ensure abuse protections for athletes. Procedures must be put in place to ensure a smooth reporting process, and serious repercussions for offenders need to be enforced, specifically in settings with a highly vulnerable population as is the case in the dance world.