Ballet dancer

Boston Ballet dancer accuses former dance teacher of sexual assault in lawsuit

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The teacher, Mitchell Taylor Button, is accused of abuse, and his wife, Dusty Button, who was a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet, is accused of participating in some of them but is not named as a defendant.

Sage Humphries, a Boston Ballet dancer, said the Buttons sexually and verbally abused her and isolated her from her family while she was in an apprenticeship program. – Kristine Potter/The New York Times

A pair of professional dancers filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing a former dance teacher of assaulting and sexually abusing them, and accusing his wife – an internet famous ballerina who danced with the Boston Ballet – of participating in some of these abuse.

The former teacher – who has been known by many names but goes by the name Mitchell Taylor Button in the suit – is married to Dusty Button, who was a principal dancer at Boston Ballet and has raised over 300,000 Instagram followers and several corporate sponsorships with viral photos and videos of her dancing.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Nevada, claims “the Buttons abuse their positions of power and prestige in the dance community to gain the loyalty and trust of young dancers” and said the couple “would exploit these relationships to coerce sexual relations”. acts by force and fraud”. Mitchell Taylor Button is a defendant in the lawsuit; Dusty Button is not, but is described as a “no-party co-conspirator”. A lawyer for the couple said they denied the charges.

The lawsuit claims that one of the plaintiffs, Sage Humphries, now a dancer with Boston Ballet, met the Buttons in 2016 while attending the company’s apprenticeship program and the couple sexually and verbally assaulted her, forced her to live with them and isolated her from her family.

“They had control over my phone and my Instagram passwords, my email,” Humphries, now 23, said. “They had total control over me. If I wanted to do something, I had to ask them first.

Boston Ballet company members rehearse for ‘Le Corsaire’ on August 31, 2016. Dusty Button leaps into the air. – John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe, Dossier

A second plaintiff in the lawsuit, Gina Menichino, alleges that several years earlier Mitchell Taylor Button sexually assaulted her when she was 13 and he was her 25-year-old dance instructor in Florida.

The lawsuit says Mitchell Taylor Button used multiple names, including Mitchell Moore, Taylor Moore and Mitchell Button.

A statement sent through a lawyer who speaks on behalf of the couple, Ken Swartz, said: “Taylor and Dusty Button categorically deny these baseless allegations, and they eagerly await the opportunity, through legal proceedings, to refute all the false and fraudulent allegations of the plaintiffs.”

Gina Menichino accuses in the lawsuit that Mitchell Taylor Button sexually assaulted her when she was 13 and he was her 25-year-old dance instructor in Florida. – Eve Edelheit/The New York Times

According to the lawsuit, Menichino, now 25, said she met Mitchell Taylor Button when she was a student at Centerstage Dance Academy in Tampa, Florida, where she knew him as Taylor Moore. On two occasions in 2010, according to the suit, she and Mitchell Taylor Button were sharing a blanket watching a movie with other studio dancers when Mitchell Taylor Button sexually assaulted her.

Mitchell Taylor Button regularly sent sexually explicit text messages, photos and videos to Menichino, according to the lawsuit, and demanded the same from him. Menichino aspired to be a professional dancer, he said, and Mitchell Taylor Button would reward her “compliance” with special dance opportunities, such as assistant teaching at a dance convention.

“The whole game was to keep him happy,” she said. “Don’t make him angry, otherwise I was unworthy and would lose my dancing career.”

Menichino, now a dancer, teacher and choreographer, said she reported her experiences to police in 2018, but they told her they found insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case. According to police records provided by plaintiffs’ attorney, another dancer at the same Tampa studio reported to police in 2012 that Mitchell Taylor Button sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions, including some in her home; that case also did not result in criminal charges, in part due to a lack of supporting physical evidence, records show.

Menichino’s mother said her daughter told her there were “inappropriate interactions” between her and Mitchell Taylor Button after he left studio work.

In Humphries’ case, her mother and father said they sensed something was wrong with their daughter’s living situation and flew to Boston to “rescue” her.

Humphries said she was impressed with Dusty Button, who was a principal dancer with Boston Ballet, and started spending a lot of time with her and her husband in 2017. But their behavior towards her became increasingly controlling, according to the trial.

According to the court filing, the couple insisted that Humphries sleep in their apartment regularly and eventually forced her to live there full-time and pay for her meals and personal expenses. Mitchell Taylor Button told her that if he had access to her social media account, he could “make her famous like Dusty.”

“If Sage ever attempted to distance himself from or disobey the Buttons,” the lawsuit said, “they would threaten to revoke their financial support and sabotage his career.”

One evening Mitchell Taylor Button sexually assaulted Humphries in her apartment, the lawsuit alleges, setting off a pattern of sexual abuse that sometimes included violent sexual acts to which she had not consented. The record indicates that on several occasions, Dusty Button held her down to immobilize her while Mitchell Taylor Button had sex with her. And at one point, according to the lawsuit, the husband and wife got into a physical altercation that ended with him “punching Dusty in the face” because he was angry that she had sex. with Humphries.

In August 2017, Humphries, then 19, was granted abuse protection orders against the Buttons, according to the lawsuit.

The Boston Ballet said in a statement Thursday that Dusty Button’s job was terminated in May 2017, but declined to say why.

“Boston Ballet supports Sage Humphries who bravely comes forward, sharing her experience to protect others and seeking accountability and justice,” the company said in a statement.

Sigrid McCawley, an attorney representing the two plaintiffs, said there is a tendency for predation in the dance world due to ingrained power dynamics and dancers’ desire to gain the approval of figureheads. authority.

“Grooming in this environment is especially easy for an abuser,” she said, “because he has full access to very young victims for long periods of time.”