NEW YORK (PIX11) - Whenever any of the 300 or so acrobatic dancers is on your train, it’s guaranteed not to be your routine subway ride. Dancing on a moving subway train takes athletic ability, timing, and smarts.
“It’s like measurements,” said Daniel Siciliano, a member of 2Live, a dance crew that’s regularly on the 4 and Q trains. “[A dancer knows exactly how far to stick his legs out when he does the signature move, ‘The Flagpole.’ We just know exactly how to flip without hitting nobody.”
It takes all that, but it gives back in return.
“It really pays bills,” said Rayquan Perez, another member of 2Live. They told PIX11 News that a bad day of receipts is, “$50 each. For 2 or 3 hours.”
A good day? “About 100 to 150 each,” said 2Live member Deroy Walden. “Without taxes,” added Rayquan Perez, who’s also a member of 2Live.
But there’s a flip-side, if you will.
Some passengers are visibly annoyed with having acrobatic dancing so close to their faces and bodies. By contrast, other passengers, who the dancers get just as close to while performing, end up laughing, and applauding the performances.
“I think of them as part of the culture of the city,” said subway rider Maria Zarate. “So I don’t see them as a bad thing.”
“If you feel it’s a danger, then move away,” said straphanger Tzu Shi Tsai. “Enjoy the show from afar, I guess.”
However, for every positive reaction to the dancers, there’s no shortage of detractors.
“I find it to be a little bit of a nuisance to be honest with you,” subway rider Peter Gordon told PIX11 News.
His viewpoints were magnified by the police commissioner, Bill Bratton. “People when they pay a fare have the right to a safe, quiet ride, with as few disturbances as possible,” Bratton told PIX11 recently.
Bratton is the former transit police chief, under whose leadership in the 1990’s, subway crime plummeted. It’s much safer now, but he says the concepts are still the same.
“The acrobats, I’ve gotten a lot of complaints about the acrobats,” Bratton said, referring to the dancers. “They’re small crimes that have a big impact, a negative impact on the general public.”
He’s enforcing the written law, MTA Rules of Conduct 1050.6, which states, in part, that “permitted nontransit uses,” such as “artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations… may be conducted in the transit system except when on or within a subway car”.
In the first two months of 2014, quality of life violation arrests on the subway have tripled from the same period last year. Dancing is no exception.
“I think it’s a waste of city money,” said activist and National Action Network founder Rev. Al Sharpton, “and certainly a waste… of law enforcement. This is what makes New York, New York.”
However, that’s not how the NYPD saw it when two of its plainclothes officers in the transit bureau arrested three of the four 2Live dancers last Saturday.
Two of the arrested break dancers, Perez and Walden, spoke with PIX11 days later, along with their friend, Siciliano. The three danced together five to seven days a week for the last seven years, when they were in middle school and high school.
“It makes us feel like dancing is a crime,” said Siciliano, “like expressing our talent is a crime.”
“We do feel like we’re criminals, because they got other people in [the holding cells] for things like robbing, killing,” said Perez. “Even the criminals say that, ‘You all got arrested for dancing?’ They don’t even know that’s a crime.”
Officers ended up charging Perez, Walden and Walden’s brother, Marcus, with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. Police gave Perez and Marcus Walden desk appearance tickets, allowing them to leave police custody to return to court at a later date.
Deroy Walden, who said he had a misdemeanor warrant on his record, was detained by police, and had to go before a judge in Central Booking. He was eventually released pending further legal action.
Walden said that he understands that not everyone on the train wants him and his crew dancing in front of, above, and around them. But, he added, “If the person doesn’t want us to do it, we’re only gonna be there for a minute or two… [just] two train stops.”
That’s still too long for police to tolerate, but not too long for potentially helpful admirers on the subway to create opportunity for the dancers. In video of 2Live provided to PIX11 News, one passenger took down the contact information for Siciliano in order to possibly book his group for future gigs.
They have done quite a few in the past. “We did photo shoots, magazines, a lot of different things,” Walden said.
“We’ve all done bar mitzvahs, kids shows,” said Siciliano. “They’ll give us $100 each, just to entertain for a five minute routine. …There’s kids involved, we’ll show them some type of dance moves and we’ll have them dance with us.”
The dancers are best friends, and they’re also business people. As any entrepreneur will point out, there’s always a risk to doing business. Getting arrested is a risk, dancing on the subway trains.
But there is no risk of arrest dancing on the subway platform. The MTA Rules of Conduct also state that “nontransit uses are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities and they are conducted in accordance with [the] rules.” Among the allowed activities are, once again, “artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations,” as long as they are in stations, and not on trains.
“If it’s legal on the platform, it doesn’t take a heavy lift to make it legal on the train. C’mon,” Sharpton said.
In contrast, “People have the right to have a safe, pleasant ride on those subway cars,” Commissioner Bratton told PIX11 News. “They’re paying for that.”
So as long as there are people who dread and are afraid of the dancers, riding in the same cars as people who smile at and delight in the dance performances, one thing will remain. “It’s not gonna stop us, honestly,” said Siciliano.