There are few things more iconically New York than the city's omnipresent Showtime kids, troupes of dancers who take over entire subway cars with agile, gravity-defying moves. The ritual is pretty standard: they'll yell out "showtime!," hit play on a tinny portable speaker, and then take turns treating commuters to elaborate performances that blend litefeet-style street dancing with gymnastic-like pole-dancing, in exchange for the occasional cash donation. It's a bona fide tradition. But in recent years, Showtime has become targeted by the NYPD, which charges that subway dancing is a crime. Both dancers and subway riders have called bullshit on the disciplinary actions, and many crews continue to cartwheel down New York's various train lines, despite the looming threat of arrest.
A new documentary short called We Live This, written and directed by James Burns, tells the story of one particular Showtime crew called We Live This. In the film, the young dancers open up about their personal histories and what makes Showtime so important to them. "For some, dancing on the train is a way out. But for me, it's a way in," says Forty, who describes himself as homeless and depends on the subways as both a means of income, shelter, and fleeting joy. "I'm begging without words. I'm begging with a smile."
For Tyty and Kahlil, a pair of brothers Forty dances with, Showtime helps deal with a father's absence. "My father is locked up so I gotta change my life around. Nobody's gonna help me if not myself," says Tyty. "The train — it's a way out for me."
Watch We Live This, an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival 2015, below.