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Dance Rebels, It's Showtime!

A few weeks ago I happened upon a Facebook thread on the subject of “who are today’s “dance rebels”?". The question made me cringe and feel itchy for reasons I couldn’t articulate, but I didn’t have the willpower to look away. As I scrolled through the 90-some responses, I saw people nominating themselves(!) as well as their friends and colleagues. These nominations provoked others to express their discontent with “dance darlings”, white men, colonial capitalism, and people who nominate themselves as dance rebels. The whole affair impressed me as a mini-anthology of the least lovable qualities of both social media and contemporary dance.

In the under-represented category of “good sense” there were a few responders pleading for the abolishment of such categories, pointing out that we all influence each other as we reassemble and synthesize the work of those who came before. And then there was the one nomination I could really agree with: for “the guys in the subway”.

If you ride the New York City subway regularly you will see, a few times a week, groups of 2-4 young people (almost always minorities) get on and announce that “it’s showtime”. Once the train is in motion, what follows is 3-4 minutes of virtuosic, sometimes gorgeous dancing: pole-twirling, cap-tossing, acrobatics, stuff I don’t have any names for, stuff that happens too fast for my trained eye to understand.

One show I saw not too long ago on a crowded E-train in Queens was particularly exciting and much more to my taste than the expensive, mostly lifeless gala I’d watched the previous night at a prestigious theater. One of the four showtime dancers, unusually, was female, and every bit as impressive as her companions. At one point, she and another dancer hung from the parallel bars near the ceiling, swinging vigorously in unison within inches of the seated passengers, most of whom couldn’t help smiling and cheering despite the imminent danger to their teeth. The dancers were also inches from signs saying that “showtime” is illegal . I gave them a dollar at the end of the show, as did several other passengers; I saw one guy give them $10.

Maybe it’s true that their dancing couldn’t sustain its momentum over an hourlong concert, but I enjoy these regular reminders of what professional dance looks like stripped to its essential components: vigor, invention, spontaneity, and immediate cash compensation based on merit.

So...unless our dancing could get us arrested, unless we’re dancing on the filthy surface of a cramped moving vehicle, and unless we're winning over already-annoyed commuters, convincing them to part with their money AFTER a show they didn't want to see in the first place, I don’t think any of us can reasonably claim to be “dance rebels”. And why did we really need to anyway?

YouTube compilation by JiveTurkeysNYC

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