Breakdancers flipping and spinning around poles on New York subway trains used to be a familiar sight.
For decades, the dancers in the subway of the Big Apple have been an eye-catching attraction, performing to a captive audience to earn money.
Now the New York Police Department (NYPD) is cracking down on the so-called ‘subway acrobats’. For those who get caught, it’s a $100 fine for “reckless endangerment”.
“That behaviour is not appropriate on a subway car. It’s very dangerous to both the acrobat’s themselves as well as to the riding public,” said NYPD Commissioner, William Bratton. “Sorry, subways aren’t for living in and subways aren’t for performing acrobatic type activities. That’s the reality of it.”
More than 200 people have been arrested so far in 2014 for crimes related to subway acrobatics. That is compared to fewer than 40 arrests this time in 2013.
Andrew “Goofy” Saunders and some friends started doing routines on trains in 2007, hoping to make $10 to enter a dance competition.
Seven years later, the group known as W.A.F.F.L.E. (We Are Family For Life Entertainment) has a sponsor and has been booked for music videos, parties, and even a wedding. But the troupe has largely stopped performing on subways because of the police attention.
“We really don’t have any outlets to perform any more. We can’t even dance outside unless we have a permit,” said Saunders.
Another subway dancer, Damien Morales, said he misses working on the subway: “I generally like to entertain and I like putting smiles on people’s faces.”
New Yorkers are divided on the issue. Some find the dancers intrusive and even dangerous.
Others, like resident Arthur Kramer have no problem: “I don’t see why it’s such a crime. There are certainly more heinous crimes in this city to worry about than this. And it’s been going on practically all my life that I have been in Manhattan.”
William Bratton from the NYPD acknowledges he is targeting subway dancers as part of his “broken windows” theory of policing. This is the idea that small-time crime is a slippery slope to more dangerous offences unless it is nipped int he bud.
Two decades ago during Bratton’s previous stint as commissioner, his “broken windows” crackdowns targeted public drinking and begging. This time it’s illegal motorcycles, graffiti and the dancers.