I apologize for this late post as it is a series of photographs from my trip to New York this past summer where a chance encounter led to an amazing experience. To my defense I have been extremely busy working on a variety of projects here in Calgary and committing to a total renovation of a home I recently purchased. Again my apologies and I hope you enjoy this post.
It was July 13th and I was leaving New York in three days after already spending an incredible three weeks in the big apple. I was taking the express train from Harlem into Manhattan to return a set of stands that I had rented for a previous shoot for a Tap Dancing Company a couple days prior. As I made my way onto the train squeezing myself into any available space I could find, I jammed myself up against a door mid way down the cart, with my stands tucked between my legs trying not to injure anyone in the process. As soon as the train started to proceed to the next station, there was this sudden “WHAT TIME IS IT?” at the top of someone’s lungs immediately followed by “IT’S SHOWTIME” from what sounded like a few other young boys. Then again the same words repeated”WHAT TIME IS IT?” ….then “IT’S SHOWTIME”. That’s when it all happened. A group of five young boys started dancing in the middle of the train cart accompanied by a very loud portable speaker system that was strapped to a make shift grocery dolly playing some old school funk. In the span of 3 minutes these boys took turns dancing in a space that was no larger than six feet by six feet successfully landing and performing head-spins, front flips, freezes, floor work, table tops, and even gymnastic flares. Their feet, hands, and bodies came within centimeters of the commuters where even the slightest change of their positions would have left someone severely bruised or badly injured. Some people watched in absolute amazement, others did not even look to see or acknowledge what was going on. At one moment one of the boys jumped above someone sitting down where he grabbed the hand rail above the woman then threw his body into a complete flip pushing himself off the bar and landing back on his feet in front of the same woman sitting down. She did not even flinch as she was on her phone.
Once the music stopped, some people started clapping, cheering, and began taking photographs with their phones. The group of boys thanked the crowd and made their way around the train cart with an empty baseball cap in their hands accepting any cash people were willing to give. I waited till one of the boys came past me where I handed him five dollar note. Immediately I thought to myself I have to follow these guys around for a day. The train was about 30 seconds from the next stop so I quickly pulled one of the boys aside and told them who I was, what I was doing in New York, and if I could photograph the five of them for an entire day. They gave me their number and told me to call them that night to set up a time.
The next day I met up with the five boys; Angel, Ouba, Aidan, Josh, and Stefy. Angel and Josh are brothers and the other boys came from other b-boy crews where they created their own called “2 Real 2 True 4 Breakin”. The boys do not just choose any train to dance on, they choose to ride the same route all day getting on only the express line and returning to the loop over and over again which allows the group to dance longer with fewer stops. Once the group arrives on the platform they quickly choose their commuter cart carefully looking for the group size of commuters to generate more tips but not to many so they are unable to have room to dance. Once we got onto the train and the doors closed, the boys immediately sprang into action. Josh immediately shouting the same words I heard the day before “WHAT TIME IS IT?”…. and the rest of the boys responding “IT’S SHOWTIME”. The music starts, they clear the space, and they waste no time and start performing as people are still trying to figure out what is happening on their daily commute. Each of boys takes a turn dancing, showcasing their moves while anticipating the trains movement so they don’t fall or accidentally collide with any bystanders. The song finishes and they proceed through the crowd collecting any cash they can before the train reaches the next station. We get off and wait for the train to take us back the other way. We complete this cycle over and over again over a span of 5 hours running from car to car to find the best train cars to dance on.
Sometimes when trains are running late the boys will practice moves and techniques on the platform, listen to music, count the tips they have made, or chat with other crews that are also dancing on the subway to earn some extra cash. On average the group earns about $250 in three to four hours and all money is divided evenly amongst the group. The five of them are all born and raised in New York and they live in Bronx. Some of the boys parents support what they do, others do not as they are are encouraged to pursue other avenues of earning extra cash.