The Hopes and Fears of New York City's Subway Dancers

Original piece published on City Lab

“Showtime” dancing is a hallmark of the New York City subway scene. Hoping for donations, groups of young black and Latino men perform exuberant choreographies for subway passengers. They go up and down and leap from pole to pole with artful “lite-feet” dancing in between. Surely you have seen them on a trip through the subway network of the city! These dancers, despite their age and economic status, have big dreams.

“I like the spotlight,” says TyTy of the group “We Live This”, “coz before I was very shy. So to break out of my shyness and then to be out in the open is very hard challenge for me.” Have you also encountered this challenge of being out on the spotlight as a dancer?

For some of us the subway ride is only a brief moment of our daily life. We could be on our phones, reading, or just zoning out and wondering when our stop approaches. For the dancers of We Live This, the train ride is the stage where they shine.

Forty, another dancer, says “When I’m dancing, I feel powerful. I feel free. Sky is the limit.”

As the city gets more and more crowded, it’s harder and harder for these dancers to perform in the subway. Sometimes other riders make troubles for them. Police can also give them a hard time or arrest them. Some dancers are already facing homelessness. If this platform is taken away from them, where would they have to go?