Break Dancing Aboveground
I submitted the following essay as part of my application for Boston's New Urban Mechanics Summer Internship. I mentioned this idea to a friend and she thought this could be a neat intervention for thesis.
A couple of months ago I saw three young and sweaty guys ask NYC subway riders for donations. They had just concluded a performance that included break dancing, spinning, and going up and down the subway car poles and bars. They were impressive!
The guys left and one upset rider spoke up: “Are you all ok with this? Look at what they did.” The screen on his phone was shattered.
Curious to learn more I went and talked to him. “It was about a month ago. I asked them for $40 to fix it. They just laughed and left.” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I like what they do, but I don’t think this is the right place.” he continued.
This made me think about Brownsville, NY. Through interviews and on site research I learned that many young residents, most of them Black, aspire to be the next Beyoncé or Jay-Z. The problem? Low income communities have no adequate forums for kids to practice and master their creative media of choice. Additionally, urban arts are not valued in the same way other arts are.
Here I saw a new opportunity. I dare to say it exists in Boston as it exists in New York City.
Increasing valorization of urban arts can transform performances like the one I witnessed into experiences that people will not only enjoy but will be willing to pay for. I propose to turn this urban art form into an economic, social, and cultural driver for residents in communities like Roxbury, in the same way flamenco is to Spain and Broadway shows are to New York.
In 2015, NYPD officers started giving cards to dancers on the subway that say “Make money. Avoid arrest. Dance!” Their intent is to get dancers to find other places to perform and decrease arrests for soliciting on the subway. Although this is a step in the right direction appropriate venues are necessary for this change in policy to be effective. I imagine a playground that it is accessible to the public, has a system of poles and monkey bars of various difficulty, a safe landing ground and music. Decommissioned subway cars could be used. Food vendors, stores, and music venues could to business here.
I envision an active space where weekly classes, events, and shows, some of which will be income-generating, are held. The implementation of fee scale programs that allow participants of various income levels to collaborate and interact with each other. A curriculum of sorts that offers mentorship not only in achieving goals and advancing their talents, but also in developing character and citizenship. The opportunity to be an instructor and performer could be an incentive for kids to stay and get better.
The intent of this proposal is to guide teenagers through the rocky years of their lives with activities that are fun, are a part of the culture they embrace, and if designed properly, safe for them and others. It is also a proposal for the community to experience and enjoy diverse cultural manifestations that are as valuable as any other.