Born in the mid-noughties, “litefeet” is a descendant of breaking, or b-boying, the dance culture that accompanied the early days of hip-hop in the Bronx in the 1970s. But where b-boys tended to keep to the streets, litefeet crews have taken their moves aboard New York’s subway trains – and, subsequently, run into the policing philosophy that has transformed the city over the past 15 to 20 years. “They’re trying to end something that’s beautiful, that’s positive,” laments dancer Goofy, founder of the respected W.A.F.F.L.E litefeet crew. “They’re trying to end an art.”
“They’re trying to end something that’s beautiful, that’s positive – they’re trying to end an art”
The NYPD’s line is that litefeet is very dangerous to the acrobats themselves, as well as the riding public – a view that resonates with those who believe that New York has metamorphosed from a world that was edgy-but-exciting to a safer place that feels distinctly sanitized. As singer James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem wrote in his 2007 hymn to the city, “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”:
New York, you’re safer –
And you’re wasting my time.
Our records all show
You were filthy but fine.
In the opening of debutant director Scott Carthy’s film – soundtracked by Yung Gutted, Czarquan, JJ DOOM, Badbadnotgood, Tall Black Guy and Darkside – we see dancers performing for each other, and the sheer invention and joie de vivre is infectious. But for all the camaraderie and the purity of litefeet’s grace and athleticism, when the setting moves to the interior of the moving train there is a distinct shift in atmosphere. Now their audience has not chosen to be there. Who hasn’t been a passenger in an underground carriage and felt the claustrophobia and tension when performers jump aboard asking for money? You only have to look at the differing reactions of the passengers in the film to see it – one man’s extraordinary horizontal pirouette on a handrail is another man’s nearly getting kicked in the head.
Perhaps it is in the moment where the train dancers cram into a bag the dollar bills they have collected that we see what has really caused police to outlaw their onboard routines. Goofy observes that the initial crews who took to subway trains to make money were soon joined by “people from their neighborhoods with criminal mindsets, looking to make a quick buck,” causing people to “bad-name the dancing community.” It is easy to see why the train dancers might have come to the attention of what Murphy, later in his song, calls, “the cops who were bored once they’d run out of crime.”
But the banning of dancers from trains will hardly mark the end of litefeet, nor the music that drives it on, nor the kids who want to take it to the next iteration. Goofy describes how litefeet dancers “saw the pole on the train as an opportunity.” No doubt the W.A.F.F.L.E crew and their fellow innovators already have the next opportunity in their sights.
Tom Horan is Culture Editor-at-Large at NOWNESS.