The first thing I have to admit before I can begin to describe the second annual NYC Dance Parade last Saturday was that I was late and that I missed it. It supposedly started at W. 28th and Broadway at 1 p.m. According to people’s memories, about 5,000 people, all dressed in wild costumes, some even on stilts, danced, laughed, and paraded down Broadway before they made a left on 8th Street, continued down St. Marks Avenue, and finally stopped at Tompkins Square Park.
I missed all of this, though. I was in Washington Square Park instead, the original finish line for the parade. But, due to construction at the park which began in December, the parade organizers had to scramble at the last minute for a new destination. They settled on Tompkins Square, but the press release on the parade’s website still touted Washington Square as the end destination.
So, there I was, a little after 3 p.m., confident that at any moment I would hear the loud music and see the swarms of costumed New Yorkers clogging, stepping, and gliding into Washington Square. I sat down for a while under a tree; I walked the perimeter of the park countless times, but no one came. Finally, I left the park and headed toward Broadway. I figured I would just walk uptown until a better idea came to me.
Luckily, at 8th Street, I saw some metal fences—the kind you always see at parades, caging the spectators—leaning against different buildings. I asked around. Sure enough, there had been a huge, fun, dancing carnival-like parade that passed through these streets hours earlier! I followed the metal fences, down St. Marks, and finally came to Tompkins. Before me, a few hundred people, some indeed in crazy costumes, were milling around. I made my way to the large stage where a man with a microphone was introducing the next dance act.
The second annual Dance Parade is about celebrating dance, in all its forms, throughout New York City. Over 40 different genres of dance were represented in the parade, according to flyers I found at the park. Mayor Bloomberg wrote a note of support for the parade that is reprinted in the flyer: "By uniting 3,100 dancers performing 29 dance styles, this terrific event will help heighten public awareness and appreciation of this singularly moving art form."
I had arrived to Tompkins Square just in time to see the City Stompers, an old timers clogging group, do a jig. Next up, Magic Feet and Rico, a man and a woman, danced to high-tempo salsa. The New York Knick’s dancers did three, quick routines. And my personal favorite, a group called Color Wheel, took the stage and wearied the crowd with deep-trance music. They wore black and white leotards and danced with neon hula-hoops. A group of young women to my right, standing with their boyfriends, thought Color Wheel was the strangest thing they’d ever seen. "What is this music," they wondered, and then couldn’t stop giggling.
Then a couple from Dance Manhattan got on stage to dance in the style of ballroom. The woman wore a long shiny gown, and the man had on a black suit. "Night and Day" by the Temptations played through the speakers. After barely a minute on stage, though, the music suddenly stopped. The couple briefly hesitated but then continued their routine in silence. The crowd cheered them on, clapping and whooping as the two twirled. Afterward the dancers, Heather Gehring, 35, and Lou Brock, 50, spoke with a sense of excitement. "The audience was so with us," said Gehring. Her partner agreed. Brock had considered stopping the routine when the music cut out, but when the audience started cheering, he figured, "Well, I guess we don’t need the music."
I left the stage area and walked through the park. Different dance groups practiced on the park paths. I lingered in front of a modern dance troupe called Aqua Dulce. The partners moved slowly, using each other to do careful and slow flips over the backs of their partners. Matthew Thornton, 33, lifted his partner, Alicia Diaz, 37, off the ground as she moved her legs up and down, like scissors cutting paper, toward the gathered crowd. The performance was titled "Grain of Sand," said Diaz, and it was based on the idea of an hourglass. Diaz thought the parade brought dance to ordinary people who might otherwise never experience it. She said the parade itself "has a very Carnivalesque feel to it."
Greg Miller, the founder of Dance Parade, said he hoped next year that the parade would end in Central Park and reach even more people. "A parade allows everyone to participate," Miller said.
Hopefully there won’t be any construction at the site, though, so the latecomers like me can find it.
Photo by Daniel S. Burnstein