New York City residents and visitors who take the subway are familiar with this sight: 

For the uninitiated: welcome to “Showtime,” a busking tradition in which dancers—often Black and Brown kids—use the subway’s poles, benches and passenger handles to perform acrobatic moves. Like many cultural developments in New York’s communities of color, Showtime is now feeling strain from the city’s rapid gentrification. In an article published yesterday (August 16) by Okayplayer, journalist Priscilla Ward explains that New Yorkers who see this underground staple as a public nuisance have, with the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) help, pushed these dancers into increasingly confined spaces.


“The rise of gentrification is rewriting the rules of what can and can’t be done in public spaces based off preconceived ideas of what is a potential ‘threat,’” Ward writes in the article, which highlights the dwindling Showtime community in words and Gioncarlo Valentine’s stark black-and-white photography (above). ”As neighborhood demographics change and longtime residents are priced out, it’s important that we consider gentrification’s many repercussions on marginalized communities of color.”

These repercussions include Showtime’s overall criminalization. Ward traces this trend’s acceleration to 2014, when former NYPD commissioner and “broken windows” practitioner William Bratton ruled such performances as “quality of life” crimes. The resulting arrests and ticketing forced youth arts organizations like Showtime NYC to shift performances to zoned areas in city parks—a move that may keep Showtime alive, but destroys its practitioners’ autonomy and ability to make money. 

“It’s micromanaged and structured in a way that puts limitations on dancers and performers in general,” reflects former Showtime dancer Ainsley Brundage, who says that he used to make between $800 and $1,000 per week on the subways. “Zoned performances and all, that’s great. But we need to decriminalize it. Because while they are doing zoned performances, people are still being arrested for performing on the train. And I think that’s wrong.”

Read the full article at Okayplayer.com.

(H/t The New York Times)