Hundreds of dancers are blowing the whistle on the Super Bowl halftime show’s history of exploiting background performers!
Over the weekend, this year’s Pepsi halftime show choreographer Fatima Robinson revealed on Instagram she was “happy to be hiring 115 paid dancers for the Super Bowl this year…..the most ever hired” to dance alongside the featured artists onstage.
But the celebratory post inadvertently sparked a flash mob of outrage when critics pointed out there would still be hundreds of other dancers, many of whom have years of experience, who would also be working it on the field for free! Amid the drama, several famous dancers — including Heather Morris and Alyson Stoner — took to social media to voice their support for the field crew.
Related: Janet Jackson Says The Infamous 2004 Justin Timberlake Super Bowl Incident Is Still ‘Tough’ To Talk About
Days later, Page Six published screenshots of alleged requests from several recruiters and LA’s Bloc Talent Agency that went out to dancers asking for “pre-dominantly African American movers” to “volunteer” for halftime. Per the screenshots, those volunteering are expected to attend mandatory rehearsals for up to nine hours a day, and would have to figure out transportation themselves.
Taja Riley — who performed at halftime with Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Coldplay in 2016 and with Jennifer Lopez and Shakira in 2020 — shared with the outlet:
“It’s not uncommon that the Super Bowl brings forth field local volunteers to be concertgoers for the Super Bowl experience just to deepen the production quality and value and the attention. These are things that are pretty common in the industry, but what is not common is a coordinator or production or producer reaching out to professional talent to hire them as volunteers and working them for the amount of time that they are requesting.”
One of the many pro dancers who were allegedly DMed about the volunteer gig was Melany Centeno, who told the outlet she was insulted by the offer. Explaining that the casting call claimed the field crew would only be doing “limited” choreography, she said:
“My immediate response was no, I’ll never dance for Super Bowl for free … they have money to pay people. And I don’t know why they would sit here and front like nine days of rehearsal is needed for people to just file into a stadium. That’s a lot, they’re lying… It’s just like, you guys want to go into the antics about this, and try to find some type of loophole to justify what this is. But this is, at the root, exploitation. It’s coming to light that in the past when the Super Bowl has done this, that these [field] people end up dancing.”
Both performers insisted that Robinson must be “aware” of the drama, considering how many dancers reached out to her and tagged her in posts dragging it. They also claimed Robinson has a habit of bringing on volunteer dancers. Centeno recalled witnessing this firsthand during Kanye West’s Sunday Service for Coachella in 2019, sharing:
“There were volunteer dancers to help make it a bigger moment … but the ‘paid’ professional dancers and volunteers were in all the same rehearsals. Basically did the same amount of work and drove themselves to Indio, California.”
For her part, Robinson is apparently blocking out the critics. Literally. Riley told the rag she was blocked by Robinson when she reached out to her to talk about this year’s Super Bowl. She explained she just wants Robinson, who worked alongside her father, singer Teddy Riley, to “do the right thing,” adding:
“This is such an amazing Super Bowl, to be happening during Black History Month and to showcase black art, black culture and predominantly highlighting black talent … so if you’re going to be a leader of a community, now is the time, if anything, to step up and be called in, to do whatever it is that you can do to forward the movement… We’re at a space where we are being overexploited as dance art is being overused, overworked and then undervalued and underpaid. I think the next step really is who will stand up like, how loud do we have to get … to bring more awareness to the mistreatment of dance artists. We should be raising the bar now and holding ourselves accountable, especially when we’ve accepted these oppressive ways and practices for so long.”
Centeno echoed those sentiments, telling Page Six:
“I think in general the dance industry has just come to this place where we’re just sick and tired of a lot of this. Because it’s not just people asking us to dance for free — it’s also these rates [for dancers] haven’t changed in 20 years.”
To make those changes, Riley is calling on Super Bowl LVI halftime show executive producer Jesse Collins along with this year’s headliners: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar.
“When it comes to the Super Bowl, there is enough money that can go around. The real question is, who is the person that gets to pull the plug? Who is the person that gets to counsel up and get the approval? I think that you have to definitely leave it to the point person producer that is putting their name on it … and that would be Jesse Collins, who happens to be an African American man and leader in our cultural community of the industry.”
Noting that it would be “so amazing” to see the halftime performers stepping up to the plate, she added:
“Mary J. Blige has a heart of gold, and personally, just knowing Snoop Dogg, I know he does. I don’t know Marshall Mathers [Eminem] personally, but I know he’s, like, amazing … and he knows how hard it is to come up in this world. So I feel like somebody can do something. Ideally it would be getting these people paid. I think that if it’s not for Fatima, I think if anybody’s personal camp could even just provide something for these Inglewood volunteers, whether it’s Beats by Dre, everybody gets Beats, or downsizing the rehearsals days … I want nothing more than this to just change. It would be so monumental.”
But according to Roc Nation, which exec produces the show, the changes have already come. The brand said in a statement to Page Six:
“As Executive Producers of the Halftime Show, 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. We completely agree that all dancers should be compensated for their craft and that is why we are employing the 115 professional dancers performing alongside the headliners.
The professional dancers are completely separate from the volunteer-based, non-choreographed field cast. As in years past, it is completely up to the volunteer candidates to participate. No one working with this show contacted an agency to request professional dancers to volunteer. Lastly, we strictly follow and adhere to all SAG-AFTRA guidelines.”
Who do U side with here?
[Image via NFL/YouTube]