In collaboration with The Toronto Star, AP reporters Martha Mendoza and Juliet Linderman spent months digging into the secretive world of teen dance competitions, combing through court records and interviewing dozens of dancers to reveal a culture of sexual abuse and silence.
Focusing on one of the world’s largest dance companies, Break the Floor, Mendoza and Linderman, along with the Star’s Morgan Bocknek, documented sexual misconduct and assault claims against some of the most famous and influential dancers in the United States, including the company’s founder.
The work of getting individuals to tell their stories was painstaking. Some victims spoke to AP but then took their interviews off the record, sending the reporters back to find new sources.
While most interviews remained on background, the sheer number of people who spoke with AP and the Star, and the specifics of the stories they told, were enough to build a strong case that from its founding, Break the Floor fostered, at best, a culture of sexual permissiveness, and at worst, sex abuse.
In the course of their reporting, as the team zeroed in on company founder Gil Stroming, he suddenly announced he was selling the company and stepping down as CEO. Stroming’s replacement let go at least four prominent choreographers implicated in the story and the company adopted new best practices; all its instructors are now considered mandatory reporters of sex abuse.
Afer the story appeared, all the survivors named in the story, and several who remained anonymous, reached out to thank the reporting team.
The story sent shockwaves through the dance world and was the No. 1 story on AP News the day of publication. Play remained strong for days with nearly 400,000 pageviews, high social media engagement and impressive readership scores.