Five dancers have joined a lawsuit alleging that former Boston Ballet star Dusty Button and her husband, Mitchell Taylor Button, have “exploited their position of power and influence in the dance world to sexually abuse young dancers across the country.”
An expanded lawsuit filed last week in US District Court in Nevada includes three new plaintiffs — one, an area dancer, who is identified in court filings only as Jane Doe 100, was a minor at the time of the alleged sexual abuse. In the original lawsuit filed in July, Boston Ballet dancer Sage Humphries came forward claiming the couple “manipulated and brutalized” her. Another dancer in the lawsuit, Gina Menichino, claimed Taylor Button “groomed and abused” her at age 13 when he was her 25-year-old dance instructor in Florida, according to the court filing.
The lawsuit and its disturbing allegations have rocked the ballet world, one populated by young dancers — most of them girls — who train under exacting instructors in hopes of reaching the top of the field. In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal that has staggered USA Gymnastics, the new suit raises questions about ballet culture, and the control and exploitation of young dancers that can come with it.
Here’s a closer look at what we know about the case.
Who is Dusty Button?
Dusty Button, 32, was a principal dancer and rising star at Boston Ballet.
Born in South Carolina, she moved to New York at 16 to train at the prestigious Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre. Shortly after, she was invited to join ABT’s Studio Company, where she performed the lead role in Adam Hougland’s “Vanished,” according to talent agency Bloc.
At 18, Button auditioned for Boston Ballet, but didn’t receive an offer, according to a 2015 cover story in Pointe Magazine. She was invited to join the Birmingham Royal Ballet in England in 2008 but still had her sights set on Boston.
“She saw the company as a challenge and auditioned again,” according to the Pointe Magazine profile.
In 2012, Button landed an offer from Boston Ballet, and joined the company mid-season. She quickly rose in the ranks and was promoted to a soloist and then principal within two years.
Having achieved her dream of becoming a principal dancer, Button told Pointe Magazine she wanted to “build a life I never need a vacation from.” She and her husband, who were self-described Anglophiles, “would make a home in a New England penthouse condo that dons more than a few Union Jacks among Ducati motorcycles and a Ferrari,” the article stated.
Button’s growing stature in the dance world brought with it a flurry of media attention. She was featured in Glamour and in Dance Magazine, among others. Her Instagram has amassed more than 300,000 followers, and she’s had several corporate sponsorships, including Red Bull.
Button’s employment with the Boston Ballet ended abruptly on May 22, 2017.
Who is Mitchell Taylor Button?
Dusty’s husband, Mitchell Taylor Button, is a former dance instructor who taught at the Centerstage Dance Academy in Tampa, Florida, from 2006-2010. He has had several aliases, including “Michell Moore,” and “Mitchell Button,” but went by “Taylor Moore” during his career as an instructor in Florida, according to the lawsuit.
In 2010, parents at the Florida dance studio began to discuss Taylor’s behavior and rumors that he had allegedly physically abused students and engaged in sexual relationships with minors, according to the lawsuit. He left the studio at the end of 2010, telling students he was going to be with his girlfriend, Dusty Button, who was then a student at the Royal Ballet School in London. The pair later married, and he took his wife’s last name, according to the lawsuit.
Taylor Button identifies himself as Dusty’s manager, the lawsuit said. He and Dusty now reside in Las Vegas.
What are the allegations?
The Buttons are accused of “coaxing” young dancers, including minors, into “situations where they become prey for this serial abuse,” including rape, according to the lawsuit.
According to the expanded lawsuit filed last week, Dusty Button allegedly told Jane Doe 100, a minor at the time, that she and her husband could make the young dancer a “star.” The couple promised her a variety of professional opportunities if she did as they said, according to the complaint.
After inviting Jane Doe 100 to a party in Boston around 2014, the Buttons brought her back to their Somerville apartment, where Taylor Button allegedly sexually assaulted her while Dusty Button restrained her in a gun-lined room, according to court documents.
In late July, Humphries, 23, and Menichino filed a lawsuit accusing Taylor Button of repeated sexual assault. Humphries’ complaint claimed that Dusty Button aided and later perpetrated the abuse herself.
Menichino said in court documents that she first entered Taylor Button’s orbit in 2010 when she started taking classes at Centerstage in Tampa as a 13-year-old dance student. Taylor Button took a “special interest” in Menichino, the lawsuit states, culminating in a situation where he allegedly sexually assaulted her.
Humphries, who as young dancer said she was “in awe” of Dusty Button, contends that the principal dancer often praised her talent and eventually insisted that she meet her husband, according to the lawsuit.
The alleged abuse began around 2017 when Taylor Button suggested the three of them watch a movie together at the couple’s Somerville apartment. There, Taylor Button allegedly sexually assaulted Humphries while Dusty Button “pretended to fall asleep,” according to the lawsuit. The abuse continued, and Humphries described herself as “basically like their little bird in a cage.”
According to the court filing, the couple continued to insist Humphries sleep at their apartment regularly, and eventually forced her to live there full-time. The Buttons paid for Humphries’ meals and personal expenses and did not charge her rent “in exchange for her compliance with their abuse,” according to the lawsuit. The couple allegedly controlled Humphries’ social media accounts and conversations with others. The couple “forbid Humphries from developing other friendships,” and from speaking with her family, according to the lawsuit.
“If [Humphries] ever attempted to distance herself or disobey the Buttons,” the lawsuit said, “they would threaten to revoke their financial support and sabotage her career.”
Who are the alleged victims?
According to the lawsuit, Jane Doe 100 lives in Bedford, N.H., and met the Buttons in 2014 when Jane Doe 100 danced as a member of the apprentice program with Urbanity Dance, a small contemporary dance company in Boston that at the time rented studio space from Boston Ballet. She is no longer pursuing a career in dance, according to the lawsuit, and said in a statement to the Globe that she hopes the case will protect future dancers from harm.
Humphries is a dancer with Boston Ballet. Menichino resides in New Jersey, and lived in Florida during the events described in the lawsuit. She is now a dancer, teacher, and choreographer, according to the New York Times. She told the Times she had “reported her experiences to the police in 2018, but that they told her they had found insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case.” The other two dancers in the case also resided in Florida during the events described in the lawsuit.
How have the Buttons responded?
Marc Randazza, an attorney representing the Buttons, has strongly denied all the allegations.
“We look forward to clearing both of their names in court,” Randazza said via email, adding, “We are not trying this matter in the press. We do find it interesting that the press has the complaint before Ms. Button has even been served. Maybe that should inspire some cynicism.”
How has the dance community responded?
Boston Ballet had declined to comment on the case, but previously issued a statement in support of Humphries, saying she is “bravely coming forward, sharing her experience to protect others, and seeking accountability and justice ... The Ballet will continue to do everything in its power to create and promote a safe and supportive culture for its students, dancers, staff, and community.”
A leader with Urbanity Dance, located in the South End, said the company had been unaware of the allegations until it was contacted by the Globe.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened to have learned of these allegations today and are devastated by the pain this young dancer experienced,” the company said in a statement. “We unequivocally condemn the predatory, cowardly behavior of perpetrators of sexual abuse. We stand in solidarity with this young woman and applaud her bravery in coming forward to share her truth.”