'Venom" warmed up the tourist crowd with a slightly off-color joke, then introduced his fellow young street dancers. It's showtime!
Relax. This wasn't on the subway. Pole-swinging subway acrobats are not a favorite of most riders, to put it mildly. But now the city's It's Showtime NYC pilot program is giving subway dancers a chance to take their talents above ground.
Christopher Brathwaite of Bed-Stuy -- dance name "Venom" -- told me he used to perform on the Union Square subway platform, but never on the trains.
"It's a whole lot better outside," said Brathwaite, 20. "It's stifling on the train station. You can't breathe. The people watching here in Battery Park aren't a scared, captive audience -- they actually want to see us dance."
NYPD Transit Bureau officers offer palm cards to subway dancers that read, "Make money. Avoid arrest. Dance!" The program, run with the Dancing in the Streets organization and the Mark Morris Dance Group, also offers rehearsal space, dance lessons and career-building opportunities in the arts.
I watched the It's Showtime NYC dancers recently beside Ian Bassin, deputy counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Bassin said the program benefits both dancers and riders, getting the dancers off the subway while "providing a leg up for young people who want a career in the arts, but don't know how to get there."
But what happens in the winter?
"We are looking at options as far as providing space when the weather turns colder," Bassin said. "Meanwhile, the cash they make up here in the fresh air is better than the cash and arrests they can expect down on the subway."
The Saturday afternoon performances in Battery Park, just outside Castle Clinton, will continue indefinitely.
As de Blasio noted in a statement about the pilot program, "For many young New Yorkers, the right opportunity can make the difference between a career and a criminal record."
So why not come down noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and check out the dancers? As Bassin said, it's a "win-win" for the dancers and the riding public -- and we can use a few more of those, can't we?
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.
CORRECTION: This column has been updated to correct the schedule of Saturday afternoon performances in Battery Park.