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.

Latest Posts


Ballet BC dancers Tara Williamson, left, and Darren Devaney in RITE by Emily Molnar. Photo by Chris Randle, Courtesy Ballet BC

Why Do Mixed-Rep Companies Still Rely on Ballet for Company Class?

In a single performance by a mixed-rep company, you might see its shape-shifting dancers performing barefoot, in sneakers and in heels. While such a group may have "ballet" in its name and even a rack of tutus in storage, its current relationship to the art form can be tenuous at best. That disconnect grows wider every year as contemporary choreographers look beyond ballet—if not beyond white Western forms entirely—in search of new inspiration and foundational techniques.

Yet dancers at almost all of the world's leading mixed-rep ensembles take ballet classes before rehearsals and shows. Most companies rarely depart from ballet more than twice a week and some never offer alternative classes.

"The question, 'Why do you take ballet class to prepare you for repertory which is not strictly classical?' has been in the air since Diaghilev's time," says Peter Lewton-Brain, Monaco-based president of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science. "What you're doing onstage is often not what you're doing in class."

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS