On the nation’s city streets, most people are just trying to get by in these hard economic times. But underneath the streets in New York City subways, it’s a different world. And for Eric Dickson it’s not just about survival, it’s about dance.
“Dancing is one of the things I do that fits me. So i decided to do it on the train, show off my talent, show what I got, show the people,” says Eric, a 10th-grader from Brooklyn.
When they’re not in school, 15-year-old old Eric and his dance crew hit New York City’s subway system three to four times a week showing off one train-defying move after another. On a good day these break dancers, or B-boys as they call themselves, can make $70 to $100 each. But sometimes they get more than money, like contacts that lead to auditions or dance gigs. And every contact brings Eric one step closer to achieving his dream of being of dancing on television.
Eric started dancing at the age three and he’s totally self-taught. His mother says she knows better than anyone he was born to dance but it’s an emotional issue for her because she doesn’t have the money to pay for lessons.
“I know it hurts him that I can’t, you know. He don’t tell me but I know my son and I love him. I wanna see him do better. I wanna see things happen for him because I know he’s a good one,” says Chrisshell Dickson as she sheds a few tears. She and her son share a close relationship that was born from hardship.
“Eric was born two pounds 14 ounces. He was born at 28 weeks. That’s where it started. His father passed away a month after he was born,” says Ms. Dickson. But you’d never know it if after seeing moves like this.
New York City subway trains are known as a hotbed of unsanctioned entrepreneurial activity from dancers, like Eric and his crew, to musicians to kids selling candy. And they’re all in violation of the transit system’s code of conduct.
“There’s some folks in there trying to collect money by pan-handling. There’s folks trying to get money in exchange for their musical performance or their dancing or gymnastics or whatever. And that can really get in the way of the cars being used for their intended purpose,” says William Henderson, head of New York City’s Transit Riders Council. Train regulations are enforced by police but transit officials say these kind of violations are not a high priority.
Even still, Eric and his mom know dancing on the subway could one day get him in trouble. But they continue to take their chances. “They’re entertaining people for something. It’s a job,” says Eric’s Mom.
Eric hopes he never has to give up his ‘job’ because for him, every train car’s a stage and a chance to get discovered.