By Michele Herrmann, Epicure & Culture Contributor
Street and subway dancing may be seen by onlookers as either a form of expression or a talent showcase. Yet others consider one or both as more of a hindrance.
It’s Showtime NYC is focusing on the former.
It’s Showtime NYC was created in 2015 as a pilot program of Dancing in the Streets — a public performance program in the South Bronx. The aim of the program is to provide a supportive and developmental infrastructure for street and subway dancers in NYC, to be able to practice and develop this unique NYC art form without being arrested. The program also advocates for the value of hip-hop as a powerful and expressive art form and lifestyle, and seeks to create viable, remunerative, and legal careers in the arts for street and subway dancers.
Epicure & Culture spoke with Program Director Mai Lê Ho to find out more about this project, and how you can get involved, too.
1) “Showtime” performances can get a bad rap. How does It’s Showtime NYC counter that notion?
We embrace the name and its roots. The visibility and performance opportunities are scarce for hip-hop dancers in the city. It’s Showtime NYC is also a symbol of this void; the dancers try to build an audience wherever they can.
As a program aiming to advocate for hip-hop dance and culture, we come across similar challenges in order to build substantial support networks. In New York, hip-hop remains marginalized from mainstream culture. There are still no regular theaters or venues that present hip-hop, or a college or university arts degree in the city that is focused on hip-hop.
We are working to create both opportunities for dancers, and a supportive infrastructure that can sustain the growth and development of the art form.
2) How do participants join this program?
Subway dancers are given cards to join the program, when they’re seen dancing on the subway by our team or the MTA NYPD. A lot of our members have also come through word of mouth and social media because they already had “hitting” — a term for those who do street and/or subway performances — friends in the program.
It’s Showtime NYC! is open to all subway and street performers that are trying to secure their “hitting” revenue through legal and paid opportunities, and further their career building skills, aptitudes and knowledge.
Interested dancers can visit our website and email us directly at [email protected]. Or they can come to one of our weekly rehearsals, Wednesdays from 2 to 4 pm at Mark Morris Dance Center in Downtown Brooklyn.
3) How long do members commit to the program? What opportunities have post-program members gone on to pursue?
About 40% of our current group of 30 dancers has been with us from the start. Other members have slowly joined us over the past two years. About 80% of new members stay long term. One of our original members became our associate administrative director; another is now our associate artistic director.
Some members are now teaching regular hip-hop classes in partner organizations such as Everybody Dance Now! and CASES Bronx. Others get hired for production and stage managing work. Many also teach and perform through their own networks. All of them still need additional income generating activities in order to sustain themselves.
4) What would you say have been some of the best moments of the program so far?
2016’s highlights involved performing at the Manhattan Supreme Court and the Graphic Cyphers project, both in the Bronx and Times Square as part of the Crossing The Line Festival.
In February 2017, we hosted our first Jam Session at Bronx Museum of the Arts, where we invited fellow artists to share the stage and community members to celebrate the culture with us.
We also had our first out of town performance in June in Philadelphia. This was thanks to MoveMakers Philly, a gym holding hip hop dance and gymnastic tumbling classes.
Overall, I would say our best moments are simply when we can share our passion for this art form with our audiences, old and new.
5) Tell us about your performance schedule.
It’s Showtime NYC presents their work regularly for audience donations in public parks, for which we obtain all the necessary legal permits. Increasingly, they’re invited to give paid performances in public spaces and community festivals.
Performance invitations have come from many organizations. They include: SummerStage, Children’s Aid Society, Times Square Arts, FIAF French Institute Alliance Francaise, The Bronx Museum Of The Arts, El Museo Del Barrio, Casita Maria and The South Bronx Culture Trail, Van Alen Institute, BRIC, Madison Square Park, Bronx Coworks and Bronx Culture Collective, OZY Fest.
Our dancers choreograph their own short pieces. The shows often include a set of choreographed works and some freestyle, sometimes accompanied by an interactive workshop with kids and families. Performances usually last between 10 and 30 minutes, but in the parks we are dancing for four hours!
Recently, we were in residency with Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula, working with him on his “Festival of Dreams” project. It was presented by the 2017 Crossing The Line Festival, as a project that culimated in two performances in the Bronx and Brooklyn on September 23 and 24.
In November, five dancers and a DJ will travel to Paris to participate in an exchange project with La Place, a new hip-hop center.
6) How can Epicure & Culture readers support It’s Showtime NYC?
We’ve started working with Kickstarter’s fall 2017 “Creators-in-Residence” program at their offices in Brooklyn. For the next three months, we’ll collaborate with a Kickstarter team to create a fundraising campaign for us.
We are also now offering a street dance experience on Airbnb’s new platform. It’s one of their social impact experiences, and 100% of what you pay for this experience goes to Dancing in the Streets Inc.
For more information on It’s Showtime NYC and dates of upcoming perfomances, visit their website. Donations to help the program sustain and grow are always welcome. Other ways of assistance can extend to potential partnerships, attending performances and equipment donations. Above photos provided by “It’s Showtime NYC.”
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