As Lady Gaga kicked off her twice-delayed The Chromatica Ball tour this week, trouble brewed from the stage wings.
Days before the start of the 18-city world tour — Gaga’s first since 2017’s Joanne — five of her longtime backup dancers took to social media one after the other to share that they wouldn’t be returning. The dancers accused head choreographer Richard “Richy” Jackson of what they labeled abusive behavior, claiming he had created an “unsafe” and “unhealthy” workplace.
“He abused me; he embarrassed me; he made me feel terrible in the workplace, just because he could,” Caroline Diamond, who worked with Gaga for the 2017 Super Bowl halftime show and Joanne tour, said in a video.
“Gaga was my dream … I chased it and I got it, and she is the dream, and then you get there, and this man makes your dream a nightmare.” Rolling Stone spoke with an additional five dancers who echoed claims that Jackson created a toxic working environment, which resulted in two of the dancers saying they voluntarily walked away from what was otherwise a dream job.
Although neither Gaga nor Jackson have addressed the allegations publicly, Rolling Stone has learned that Gaga’s team is taking the dancers’ concerns seriously and is looking into their allegations. (Representatives for Gaga and Jackson did not reply to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)
All of the dancers who spoke out against Jackson spoke highly of Gaga and were adamant that she had nothing to do with the situation, as she wasn’t present for much of the dancers’ rehearsals with Jackson.
But by sharing their stories now, former Gaga dancer Knicole Haggins tells Rolling Stone that it’s an “opportunity for things to change for the better and for people to feel that they don’t have to be quiet in order to keep their job.”
“My point in coming forward about this is seeking change,” former dancer Sloan-Taylor Rabinor adds. “If I can positively impact or save a dancer from having an experience like this, so when these red flags come up, whether it’s with [Jackson] or it’s somebody else, that they can step outside and be like, ‘Oh, I know what this looks like, I know how to remove myself from that situation.’”
Jackson has held the position of Gaga’s head choreographer since 2011, taking over the gig from his former boss Laurieann Gibson, who created the routines for Gaga’s music videos “Poker Face,” “Born This Way,” and “Telephone.” During Gibson’s four-year tenure with Gaga, Jackson served as her assistant choreographer but still wielded sizable influence. Since then, Jackson has been the choreographer for Gaga’s tours, music videos, Super Bowl halftime show, as well as working for JoJo Siwa, Mario, and Grace VanderWaal.
Dancer Montana Efaw was the first to speak out against Jackson. Up until last week, the names of the dancers who made the cut for the Chromatica Ball had been kept under wraps. Impatient fans began reaching out to longtime dancers, such as Efaw, to see if they’d confirm whether they were part of the tour.
Efaw, who started dancing for Gaga when she was 18 years old in 2009, posted an Instagram Story explaining that she would not be part of the tour. “To be completely open and honest with you guys, her choreographer Richard Jackson was a horrible person to work for,” she said, later writing he had been “mentally abusive to me for years.
.” (Efaw did not go into further detail about Jackson’s alleged behavior.) After a series of unfortunate events, I just took it as a really clear sign that it’s time for me to move on and not work with him anymore,” she added.
Longtime Gaga dancers, including Diamond, Rabinor, Graham Breitenstein, and Kevin Frey chimed in with their own statements and explanations for why they weren’t part of the tour, also referring to their experiences with Jackson. (Breitenstein and Rabinor started dancing for Gaga in 2009, and Frey in 2012. They had been involved in almost every project since they were hired, including Gaga’s 2019 Las Vegas concert residency. Diamond and Breitenstein did not respond to requests for comment, and Efaw and Frey declined to comment further than the statements in their posts.)
In a Twitter post, Breitenstein said he began assisting Jackson in 2016 and during that time had “worked really hard and did all [he] could to make sure that dancers were taken care of, and always put first.” But, without saying why, he says that their longstanding friendship and working relationship came to an “abrupt end last year” and that, Breitenstein says, spelled the end of his time working with Gaga.
While Rabinor didn’t mention Jackson by name in her Twitter post, she said “leadership” during her time with Gaga was “detrimental to me as a human being.”
Frey also didn’t directly name Jackson, but referred in his post to an “individual” who he claimed was “unqualified and unfit to lead a group of adult professional artists.” “Those that have the power to make those changes have been informed,” Frey wrote.
“I am hopeful they will investigate and make changes that are conducive to creating a professional, healthy, and safe working environment for everyone.”