Crowds gathered, even when they didn't know exactly what they were watching. Photo by Rachel Papo

What Happens When Site-Specific Dance Takes Over Times Square

At first glance, Times Square might seem like a near-impossible location for a site-specific dance performance. Between tourists posing for selfies, flashing billboards, New Yorkers rushing to work and people in Batman costumes trying to make a buck, it can be completely overwhelming and overstimulating. But that also makes it interesting.

"At its essence, Times Square is bodies moving through time and space," says Andrew Dinwiddie, acting director of public art at the Times Square Alliance. It's also a place with a rich dance history, from vaudeville to Broadway musicals to dance halls and studios.

Dinwiddie worked with Judy Hussie-Taylor, the executive director and chief curator of Danspace Project, to create a program of original works in Times Square this fall that reference the history and experience of the place. An estimated 33,000 people passed through the area each day during the four-hour program—most just happening upon it. What they saw was unique even for Times Square.


Laurie Berg's scape

Photo by Rachel Papo

Just below the signature red stairs of TKTS, the discount-ticket booth where theater lovers congregate every day, Laurie Berg and her six dancers wove in and out of the crowd in Father Duffy Square, performing scape. Sometimes, a small circle of attention cleared around them as they danced in unison to a pulsing beat. Other times, they were among the pedestrians, nearly brushing the face of a tourist. Times Square Arts employees handed out disposable glasses, each tinted with red or blue film. Many passersby grabbed a pair with no idea of what they were taking, or why.

Full Circle Souljahs' Behind The Groove—Times Square Edition

Photo by Rachel Papo

For Rokafella and Kwikstep, the married duo behind Full Circle Souljahs, dancing in Times Square has special significance. "Kwikstep and I met dancing on the street," says Rokafella. "We were part of different crews in the early '90s, putting our talents out there for the tourists, with this classic style of dance that was not being highlighted in the mainstream." They used to set up right in Duffy Square. The police would often interrupt their shows, sometimes arresting the dancers.

luciana achugar's New Mass Dance

Photo by Rachel Papo

Luciana achugar likens Times Square to being on the bottom of the ocean. "There are all these currents of people," she says. "It's constantly, fluidly changing." Her New Mass Dance began largely with a stillness in the crowd. Gradually, several figures in denim became apparent, standing statuelike at various points in the plaza. Just as you started to notice them, they came together in a huddle, each holding an arm in the center like a sports team. Later, they lay on the ground like a human starfish, connecting at their feet.

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Yvonne Montoya with her son Buddy at home. Photo by Dominic A Bonuccelli, Courtesy Montoya

The Challenges of Dancing While Parenting While Going Through a Pandemic

When Yvonne Montoya climbs all over the piano while her 12-year-old son Buddy tries to practice on it, we might guess that she is either having a parental meltdown or making a dance. Turns out, it's both. "It's been wild, and completely overwhelming," says Montoya from her Tucson, Arizona home, where she lives with Buddy and her husband.

Montoya, a 23rd-generation Nuevomexicana and founding director of Safos Dance Theatre, is one of many dance artists navigating motherhood during COVID-19. Choreographers, educators, artistic directors and dancers are not only trying to keep their careers afloat by creating digital work, but some have also been dealing with their now homebound children in the wobbly world of the Zoom school room, which is about to crank up again in most of the U.S. Doing that while managing a company, a studio or a freelance career can sometimes generate a type of artful chaos.

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