"The New York City Dance Community"

dance community NY group photo in bryant park

I don’t know who in the dance community annoys me more: those who consider themselves hipper than thou and call themselves “downtown,” or those who consider Ballet the only form of dance.

Spurred by Eva’s suggestion, I went to Bryant Park this afternoon to take part in the first ever group photograph of the New York dance community, organized by Belgian online dance initiative Sarma and local dance collective Chez Bushwick. Everyone who considered themselves part of the dance community was invited. Since I’m a dance blogger, ballet and modern fan and amateur ballroom dancer, I decided that included me.

When I arrived I spotted a robust, jovial-looking, curly-haired man wearing a t-shirt that announced he was a member of the photo op, and headed toward him. I kind of look like Sylvia Plath but shorter and with darker hair, or maybe Suzanne Farrell but not anywhere near as pretty :) I have long hair and was wearing a ballet-y black bouncy-skirted sundress bow-tied at the waist by a red silk scarf, and sandals whose straps were topped with embroidered flowers. I was carrying an oversized pink bag bearing books. After making brief eye contact with me, the man peered around me to another woman and began greeting her, until I stopped right in front of him.

“Oh hi,” he said to me, surprised. “Um, we’re actually taking a photograph of the New York dance community here. Would you like to participate?” he asked hesitantly.

“Uh-huh, that’s what I’m here for,” I said.

“Oh. Oh good,” he said handing me a piece of paper announcing the rules (you gave them permission to use the photos of you on the internet and in magazines, yadda yadda). He also told me after the picture was taken, I was to sign my name on a roster of attendees and would receive a sticker entitling me to a free drink at one of the concession stands. He then told me they were running a little behind schedule and directed me to take a seat at one of the tables in an adjacent elevated area along the path.

I did as he suggested. Turned out to be the perfect little perch for me since its elevation gave me a good view of the crowd. I enjoy being an observer. Plus, I was having a bad hair day and was a little worried of running into Marcelo or David or one of my ballet heartthrobs, so could be on the lookout and duck for cover if need be. I had nothing to worry about as it turned out: there wasn’t a soul from the ballet world there.

Many people began arriving, and I didn’t know anyone. Finally, I spotted a fellow blogger in the crowd. As he was making his way to the tabled area after receiving his instruction paper, I waved to him.

“What are you doing all the way over here?” he said as he approached. I didn’t really understand the question so responded with a quizzical look.

“We don’t ever see each other,” he then announced, “because you’re a snobby elitist who only goes to uptown things. I go to all the cool downtown things.”

I just stared at him, not really knowing what to say. He laughed. Apparently I was supposed to take it as a joke.

“Well, I’m going to go around and meet new people while you sit here like a wallflower.” And he was off.

I kind of sat there stupefied. I think I saw Eva, but after that didn’t feel like getting up to say hello. Maybe some other time. I saw Jonah Bokaer, one of the organizers of the event and a dancer with Merce Cunningham. He’s rather cute in person :) He was going around giving people who looked like they belonged small bottles of water. That didn’t include me. He looked right through me when he passed directly in front of my table even though I had my piece of paper with the instructions prominently displayed. A twenty-something woman with dark hair bearing a green “press pass” around her neck was going around with a notepad. She stopped at a table in front of me at which sat a man and two women with really cool-looking dreadlocks. I overheard them tell her they were retired dancers, now choreographers. I wondered if the interviewer was Gia.

About half an hour later, an announcer muttered something over a microphone that barely worked. From the crowd’s actions, I figured he was telling people to line up to his left. I followed suit, but kind of wish I’d just have stayed where I was to take pictures. I got a space all the way in the back of the crowd. I could hear him now telling taller people to move to the back, but apparently the average man over six feet either doesn’t understand English or has no sense of his size in comparison to others. Or else “downtown” male dancers are just rude. Some tiny women in the back brought over some chairs and stood on them. Soon, a security guard was in on the action ordering the people to get off the chairs. They paid him no mind. He yelled louder. They continued to ignore him. I couldn’t believe their audacity. And it did look dangerous: the plastic chairs were very insubstantial and the ground was really rocky and unstable. I wouldn’t stand on such a thing and these were dancers. He walked right up to one of them and yelled in her face to get off the chair or else. This was far more exciting than the photographer up front!

“Oh come on, officer” she whined like a character in Rent. Thankfully the last picture was snapped and the whole experience over, so there was no further trouble.

Good thing about being in the back was I was first in line to record my name. That of course didn’t mean I was actually first to do so. As the man handed me pen and paper, someone reached over my head and snatched the whole right out of my fingers, bumping me on the crown with the back board. Other pens and rosters were handed about, arms flying feet stomping everywhere. About fifteen minutes later I was finally able to scribble my name, identity (blogger), place of birth and email address, and receive my sticker, which I promptly took to the nearest concession stand.

“What’s this thing?” the clerk snapped.

“We’re supposed to get a free drink?” I said.

She laughed shaking her head. “I don’t know nothin’ about this.”

“The dance community gathering, over there,” I pointed to the raucous crowd bombarding the man with the rosters and stickers.

“I don’t know and I don’t wanna know,” she spit.

I guess it was a fitting end to a discomfiting experience. Weird, I was just saying how good it felt to be part of the dance community.

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5 Responses to "The New York City Dance Community"

  1. Ariel says:

    Oh my gosh that sounds like such a frustrating event! I think I can guess who this other rude blogger that made the “downtown” comment was. And you are so right, that is ironic since you just posted about the dance community earlier this week! More evidence I guess!

  2. tonya says:

    Thanks Ariel, I knew you’d understand :) The whole thing was actually kind of funny, now that I’m looking back…

  3. Maria says:

    Wow, Tonya, what a horrible experience! It seems that everyone there forgot that they were no longer in high school. When I read the announcement for the event it sounded like a really cool thing, especially since they were inviting anyone who considered themselves part of the community to come. To be treated like that, condescended upon, quite frankly just makes everyone else look rude and insecure. I’ve always argued against the whole “New Yorkers are rude” stereotype because every time I’ve been to NY I’ve found the majority of people to be helpful and kind, but those “downtown dancers” didn’t do anything to help their image!

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  5. Lee Baby Sims says:

    Some “community”! Have you thought about covering theatre instead?