The other day on BART, three young hip hop dancers looking like street thugs started dancing and passing a hat. They weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either. And they were doing something joyful that took skill and not a little hard work and practice, for the pleasure of onlookers. For money, yes, but they exerted no pressure, and they obviously took pride in their achievement. I put a buck in the hat, thanked them, and told them they made my day. They beamed in appreciation of the compliment. Other passengers enjoyed the performance as well. How often do you get live entertainment on public transportation?
In this clip you can see real pros at the top of their game busking for a tough crowd: New York subway riders. I’d have been thrilled to have gotten to see these guys, but even so, the first youtube comment calls them criminals and urges subway patrons to report them. “These so called dancers are nothing more than criminal beggars!” he rants.
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Granted, not everyone likes Hip Hop, but to call these guys “so called dancers” bespeaks a serious shoulder chip. Whatever your opinion of people busking on the subway, these dudes can DANCE. It does make me wonder, though, why so much anger? Yes, it’s illegal. And if amateurs had a go at this level of gymnastics it would be downright dangerous, but these dancers were highly skilled and very much in control. Would he have had the same reaction if a team of white Olympic gymnasts had taken to the racks of his subway car?
So what’s really going on here? Hip Hop is an African American street dance. It reflects a very specific culture. Not just black, but ghetto black. My last post about a dance controversy was about people’s reaction to fat dancers on stage. When someone has a visceral, angry reaction to art, there is usually deep seated prejudice of some kind behind it. Fat prejudice for Australia’s Nothing to Lose, racism in New York’s subway for the Tylive Crew.
It’s my vision statement to do my best to contribute to a world in which people break out into spontaneous dance in inappropriate places, so you know where I stand on this controversy. But I also like to see people, including myself, take a look at the reactions we have to art and question the validity of what’s behind them. After all, that’s part of the job of art, isn’t is?
by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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