Rush. Rush. Rush. New Yorkers are always on the go, and this day is no different. Yet, this particular afternoon at the 34th Street and Sixth Avenue station, busy subway passengers are taking time off from the mad dash for the closing car doors to gather near the top of the uptown platform escalators. Seven men in powder blue tracksuits, the New York City Float Committee, assert dominion over the hustle and bustle of the subway scenery as they step in unison to a hip-hop classic. Suddenly they clap and break off, spinning into solos. Windmills. Footwork. Uprock. Twisted forms freeze mid-rhythm and pose. “That’s not easy!” yells one of the performers to the attentive crowd while Wayne Blizz, the crew’s founder and captain, works the half-circle of onlookers with a bucket in hand. “This is pay-per-view,” says Smiley, the in-house jester, with a toothy grin. “You view. You pay.”
This is but a taste of the typical fare served up in B-boy sessions throughout the transit system. As one of the cornerstones of hip-hop, break dancing, or B-boying, has been dwarfed by the monster of mainstream rap. But the art form survives in New York’s subway stations, one of its native habitats, thanks to crews such as the Float Committee and Doin’ Damage Together (DDT).
For the Float Committee, a standard set lasts from five to 10 minutes, depending on the energy injections from the crowd, and consists of a combination of routines and solos. “We do everything,” says DJ Spivey, a senior member. “Whatever you seeing in all them videos, and all that. Headspins, suicides, windmills . . . all the moves. Gymnastics and breakin’ combined.” On any given day, a throng of subway passengers can be found bobbing their heads to beats or clapping in delight, entranced by the crafty manipulation of centrifugal force. “It’s like street break dancing,” says Jana Somar as she catches a show on her lunch break. “It looks like they’re having a lot of fun. They put all of their energy into it.”
Various incarnations of the Float Committee have worked the subway systems for more than two decades, and although to its practitioners breakin’ has never slowed or died down, the art form has recently become more visible in the city. Some breakers attribute the perceived resurgence to vibrations pulsating throughout the entire hip-hop world. “It’s only a 360,” says Floater Dusty Rose. “You see hip-hop coming back. Look at Missy Elliot videos, Nas. Everybody wants some hip-hop. Everybody’s wearing [old-school] Puma sneakers. Adidas sneakers. Having break dancers, pop lockers. It’s art.”
Across town in the Grand Central Terminal subway, it’s a family affair as DDT warms up the crowd. The crew, headed by 27-year-old Lawrence Artis, consists of his brothers, 10-year old daughter, five-year-old son, and 12-year-old cousin. “We’ve traveled inside and outside the United States doing this,” says Artis. “Africa, Japan, Australia, France, Canada, throughout the whole 50 states.” The crew boasts of numerous corporate endorsements and has had cameos in films. However, DDT’s distinctive central attraction is Artis’s son Steffon, a showstopper as he runs through his routines in miniature with skills rivaling those of the big boys.
Police willing, you can catch breakers in city parks or at any of the larger midtown subway stations. A good show just might ease the pain of fare hikes. And for those really fiending for some breakin’ action, some of New York’s greatest B-boy and B-girl talent can be seen later this month at the legendary Rock Steady Crew’s 26th anniversary celebration (July 25 through 27, various locations, rocksteadycrew.com). Fat sneaker laces and Cazal glasses are optional.