Dance much? The closest I get is running with an iPod. Unless I have a camera. But observing dance is different from actually dancing. The former is passive, cerebral and safe while the latter is about letting it all hang out, which may be why public dancing is regulated and periodically reviled in tightly-wound NYC.

A couple of months ago I met Rachel Cohen, a modern dancer/choreographer who combines the aesthetic and physical aspects of dance in elaborate performances that she produces in venues ranging from dance theaters to hospital psychiatric wards. In addition to practicing one of the city’s most endangered art forms, Cohen is running her own dance company. I spent several hours with Rachel and her dancers as they rehearsed for an upcoming show and I wondered about their willingness to invest so much effort and time — and in New York time equals money — in an ephemeral art form with a limited audience.

In the end, the kids just wanted to dance.

Less formal types of dance generally get a pass in New York. At least since Rudolph Giuliani left the Mayor’s office. While Mike Bloomberg is friendlier to getting down, he maintains a low tolerance for what he deems to be lifestyle incursions like public smoking and street freaking (and all-night drum circles). Last fall, I took part in a Rock & Roll Dance ride organized by bike advocacy group Times-Up to promote public ownership of the city’s open spaces. No physical clashes or arrests occurred, but several onlookers got vibed for parking on the dance floor.

Yesterday, I came across a less overtly political form of public dancing on the boardwalk in Coney Island. This seaside shindig is for my money–and it’s free as the sun and air–the beating heart of the New York People’s Partay. In the face of all the grumbling about the city’s gentrification and infringement on civil liberties, it attests to the triumph of the will to boogie and the ultimate power of New Yorkers to hold on to our city by being how we are.

POSTSCRIPT: The above clips were shot in three different video standards: The modern dance piece (first clip) was shot in high definition at 30 frames per second on a Canon HV30. The Times-Up dance ride was filmed in “cinema mode” (24 frames per second), which gives it more of a film-like look, an option on the HV30. The Coney Island boardwalk clip was shot in standard digital video on a Canon PowerShot digicam. Yeah!

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