Rhythm of the City: Fall into step with NYC’s best dancers

Here’s how to shimmy, sashay, move and groove in NYC this summer.

Salsa Dancers Jordynn Lurie and Adriel Flete
Photograph: Lila Barth for Time Out New York | Salsa Dancers Jordynn Lurie and Adriel Flete

New York is an epicenter of dance. The concert dance scene is rich with high-level ballet and modern dance companies as well as independent artists experimenting in every style you can imagine. On Broadway and beyond, theatrical choreography seems to expand in its breadth, daring and sophistication every season. Studios all over the city offer hundreds of open classes in a plethora of styles. The dance floors of the nightlife scene feature everything from Latin ballroom and swing dancing to the many subgenres of hip-hop—some of which spill out onto the streets to meet tap dancing and breakdancing buskers as the particular magic of summer in the city casts its spell. 

There is so much dance happening at any given moment, in fact, that it can feel a bit overwhelming. How do you know where to start? But if there’s one thing that dancers have in common, regardless of their specialities, it’s an eagerness to share what they do with others. We spoke to eight dancers, from burlesque to salsa and beyond, to find out why they love their chosen styles and where New Yorkers can find them—and maybe even join in. Whether you want to take in a show or put on your dancing shoes, the city is overflowing with opportunities to make dance part of your summer.

RECOMMENDED: Center Stage with MJ the Musical’s Elijah Rhea Johnson

NYC dance in all its forms

Gaby Cook and AJ Howard

Lindy Hop dancers and teachers, Midtown Swings

If you see a Lindy Hop video pop up on social media, your attention might be caught by a dancer being flung into the air by their partner; such brief moments of flight are fitting for a dance named after the pioneering aviator Charles Lindberg. The dance’s vintage swing aesthetic hearkens back to its origins in the 1930s and 1940s at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. “It’s not only Black American history, it’s also New York history,” says Gaby Cook. “But Lindy Hop is also a dance that lives in the contemporary world. It’s interested in being part of the present and future of dance.” Case in point: While a lot of historical footage shows men taking the leading role and women as followers, “that breakdown of people and roles has been boiled away,” Cook says; she and her usual partner, AJ Howard, alternate between roles, and it’s not unusual to see same-sex couples or gender-nonconforming folks on the floor.

Howard thinks that a popular misconception about Lindy Hop is that it’s too difficult for non-dancers to pick up. “A lot of people are like, ‘I don’t think I can do that dance, because it’s really active and energetic,’” he says. “It’s beautiful to watch them figure out that they can actually do it.” Howard might understand that transition better than most: He had no experience with dance before a coworker pestered him into giving swing dancing a try; shortly thereafter, he found himself dancing almost every night. 

Howard and Cook, who was a serious ballet student as a child and fell in love with Lindy Hop after taking a class in college, knew of one another but didn’t have a chance to dance together until 2021, when they were both cast in Caleb Teicher’s Sw!ing Out at the Joyce Theater in Chelsea. A week after Howard returned to Sacramento at the end of that show’s run, Cook called him with the opportunity to run a social dance program at a studio called Midtown Swings. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds amazing, let’s do it!’” he recalls, laughing. “Gaby said, ‘No, but you’d have to move to New York.’ And I was still like, ‘Yeah, that sounds amazing, let’s do it!’ I was really excited about New York City, I’d loved working with Gaby, and Midtown Swings is such a beautiful community we’re growing together.”

“New York has all the things that we know it does—incredible jazz music, incredible venues,” says Cook. “The swing dance community benefits from the proximity to really special jazz music institutions.” Howard adds: “Every couple of weeks there’s a massive event that will happen in a historic ballroom from back in the day when Lindy Hop was first created, and we get to dance in those spaces!”

But the pair has also discovered that there is a swing dance scene in cities all over the world. “You can have a three-and-a-half minute conversation with somebody that doesn’t speak the same language, but speaks the language of dance,” Howard says. Diving into the Lindy Hop scene, wherever you do it, lets you have “instant community,” Cook notes. “You have your own voice, but then you’re also working in partnership with someone else, and you’re seeing the music through their movements and hearing what they hear. You’re living in their world, and that’s a really special experience to have.”

Lindy Hop is… “Fun, historical, modern, improvisational, dynamic.”

If you don’t think you can do it: “It’s an everybody dance!” Howard says. “A lot of people think they have two left feet, but you don’t have to have good knees to do this dance. People dance it in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and have a good time.” “It’s not really about getting good at it and being done with it so much as it is a community to plug into,” Cook adds. “Swing dancers are very nice people, they’ll help you learn and be along for your journey.”

Where to dance with Gaby and AJ: Midtown Swings classes on Wednesday and Thursday nights (there are beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate and advanced levels) and a weekly social dance on Wednesdays from 9pm–midnight.

Visit midtownswings.com/classes for the most up-to-date offerings and nycswings.net for more classes and events throughout the city.

Adriel Flete

Salsa dancer (pictured with Jordynn Lurie), Talia Productions 

What is distinctive about New York City’s version of salsa dance? “The energy, the pace, the commitment and attack that people have on the performative side, as well as the joy, community, and comfort that it has in the social scene,” dancer Adriel Flete rattles off. “The speed and the urgency, the live music, the history, the people—and you have people who are actually from these Latin countries that brought their own flavor to it. New York is a freer place to be yourself and dance how you dance. People have to accept you for you in New York.” Flete would know: Having grown up above his mom’s dance studio in Ditmas Park, he has a sense of having been “born into it,” learning salsa alongside a long list of other styles. Flete began performing at a very young age under the tutelage of his mother—who was herself taught by Eddie Torres, a giant in the world of Latin dance. Torres is largely responsible for the popularization of “Salsa on 2,” New York City’s signature style, which emerged at midtown’s Palladium Ballroom in the middle of the twentieth century in response to the music of Tito Puentes and his contemporaries. (In simplest terms, the accent is placed on the second beat of the music—the “two,” rather than the “one.”) “It is an interpretive type of movement that looks amazing on people that have their own style with it,” Flete says. “The fact that people created their own style at the Palladium that got passed on, the fact that we do it to this day, is very important.”

Latin dance has been showing up more and more in mainstream pop culture in recent years. Flete points to Broadway musicals like On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan and films like Steven Spielberg’s 2021 West Side Story remake, both of which he performed in. (“That’s where salsa is able to take a little boy from Brooklyn,” he says proudly.) But in New York City specifically, dancer and producer Talia Castro-Pozo’s efforts to bring salsa outdoors through hundreds of free events—“Bringing it out to the streets as it was originally done,” Flete says—has made the style a summer staple. Last month Flete and other salsa pros demonstrated their moves in Bryant Park’s Dance Party series with dancer Jordynn Lurie; upcoming events will take place at Greeley Square, Hudson River Park’s Pier 76, Lincoln Center and Elsie Rooftop.

There’s plenty to check out beyond those events, too. “New York has one of the most amazing cultures in nightlife,” Flete says. In addition to the outdoor events he’ll be participating in with Castro-Pozo this summer, he recommends checking out Taj Lounge on Mondays (also produced by Castro-Pozo) and Verlaine on Sundays, both of which host live bands. “The live music part of it in the social setting is an amazing thing that people can’t miss,” he says. “If you’re a first-timer who doesn’t know where to go, these are two great places where socially you’ll blend in very well. You can go just to listen to the music.”

Salsa is… “Rhythm, unity, culture, fusion, master class.”

If you’re nervous to get on the floor: “Grab some shoes that you feel very comfortable in, grab a drink, and just listen to the music,” Flete says. “It’ll get you on the dance floor.”

Where to try salsa dancing this summer: Midtown Dance at Greeley Square Plaza, Wednesdays at 6pm; Sunset Salsa at Pier 76, Thursdays at 6:30pm; Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City, various Thursdays and Fridays at 6:30pm; Taj Lounge, Mondays at 5:30pm; Elsie Rooftop, dates TBA

Visit taliacastro-pozo.com/taliaproductions and individual websites for the most up-to-date info.

Cherry Pitz

Burlesque performer and co-producer of Hotsy Totsy Burlesque at the Slipper Room

“I love creating art that encourages audiences to scream,” says Cyndi Freeman, who has performed burlesque under the moniker Cherry Pitz since 2007. A performer with a background in sketch and improv comedy from Boston, Freeman moved to New York City in her mid-30s, and began training at the New York School of Burlesque after being diagnosed with the BRCA gene, which raises the risk of breast cancer. “It was an art form that celebrated my body and made me feel sexy,” Freeman recalls. “That was the antidote I needed.” The body and sex positivity that striptease embraces, as well as its radical inclusivity, continue to be among her favorite things about the form. “Every body is welcome on that stage,” Freeman says. “I’ve had more than one audience member come up to me afterwards and say, ‘This was my first burlesque show, and I’ve always been self-conscious about my body, but I saw somebody who looked like me up there and they looked amazing. They were proud. I should be proud too.’”

Hotsy Totsy Burlesque, which Freeman produces with her husband Brad Lawrence (a.k.a. Handsome Brad), combines sketch comedy with burlesque in a raucous celebration of pop culture. Themes have included everything from Doctor Who and Star Trek to video games, as well as an annual sendup of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. The “nerdlesque” troupe performs monthly at the Slipper Room, a 25-year-old venue that is credited as the birthplace of the revitalization movement known as neo-burlesque—and isn’t far from the former National Winter Garden Theatre, where legend has it that in 1917, Minsky’s Burlesque witnessed the origin of the striptease act as we know it when Mae Dix absentmindedly began removing pieces of her costume before making it offstage, to the delight of the audience. 

“Burlesque as it is now wouldn’t exist without New York,” Freeman says. And much like the city itself, the genre is defined by the artists who are currently doing it, whose approaches range from shock tactics and political commentary to sexy clowning. Performers of all gender identities, ages, and body types are drawn to a form that “doesn’t need to be anything,” Freeman says. “It’s not a censored art form. The artists are the ones who want to stretch boundaries. It’s always fluid, it’s always changing, and it’s always changing with the times.”

Freeman loves performing at the Slipper Room both for the history and for the venue’s practice of bringing in remarkable talent while keeping ticket prices reasonable, making it “the perfect place for a sexy date night.” And for first-timers who might be a little intimidated or unsure? “Don’t be afraid,” Freeman says. “It’s going to feel like you’re walking into a welcoming community.”

Burlesque is… “Sexy, fun, inclusive, ridiculous, body-positive.”

Why you should go: “You won’t go into a burlesque show and walk out in the same mood,” Freeman says. “There are so many different kinds of burlesque shows, I can’t tell you how you’re going to feel different, but you will.”

Where to see Cherry Pitz: Hotsy Totsy Burlesque at the Slipper Room, every second Thursday of the month

Visit hotsytotsyburlesque.com for more info, and slipperroom.com for its complete lineup.

Tavon Olds-Sample

Performer, MJ on Broadway

Broadway has always demanded a high caliber of performance, and in recent years the styles of dance presented—and the sheer level of skill required for the choreography—have exploded. But even by those standards, the pressure of emulating Michael Jackson, who was arguably as well known for his moves as his music, is immense. That tall order is shared by the actors who play Jackson at three ages in the Broadway musical MJ. But Tavon Olds-Sample, who performs as the middle Michael in eight shows a week, finds joy in the way the show “brings other people joy. It’s so fun to do every night.”

A Virginia native, Olds-Sample started dancing at the age of 5, learning hip-hop from the street dancers he met at church. But he didn’t take his first formal dance class until his freshman year of high school, when he became interested in pursuing professional theater. He made his Broadway debut when MJ opened in 2021. “When I got the call that I booked the role, I kept not feeling like it was real!” he recalls. “I was so happy.” 

The jukebox musical is set during rehearsals for Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous World Tour, moving through many of the artist’s biggest hits while reflecting on pivotal moments in his career up to that point. Christopher Wheeldon landed Tony Award nominations for Best Direction and Best Choreography for his work on the show; Rich and Tone Talauega, who began dancing on Jackson’s tours as teenagers, consulted on capturing the King of Pop’s iconic movement style. Olds-Sample sings and dances his way through hits like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and “I Can’t Help It.”

While the show’s demanding schedule leaves little time for Olds-Sample to take dance classes (“We do try!” he quips), a peek at his social media shows him occasionally playing with a TikTok dance challenge, sometimes in costume backstage; “All the new TikTok dance trends have a hint of MJ in them,” he says.

MJ’s choreography is… “Electric, captivating, moving, transcendent, pulsating.”

Why you should catch the show, or try dancing yourself: “You’re not getting any younger,” Olds-Sample says. “Do it, I promise you’ll love it!”

Where to see Tavon Olds-Hample onstage: MJ at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre, eight shows a week

Visit newyork.mjthemusical.com for the full schedule.

April Cook

Tap teacher, Broadway Dance Center

“People often ask in interviews, ‘Do you feel like tap dance is back?’” April Cook says. “Tap dance never went anywhere! We’ve been here!” While dance across genres survives through an oral tradition, the tap community is particularly tight-knit. “It’s a physical embodiment of what your teachers have passed down to you,” says Cook. “You get to be this beautiful mix of people who you admire and look up to, and then you get to pass everybody who is now in you on to your students. It’s only making the art richer and fuller and keeping us all connected through these many generations.” For a uniquely American dance form that evolved alongside jazz, and which owes its development to Black performers (many of whom remain unsung), that connection to roots is paramount. In recent years, Cook has noted more and more students expressing an interest in understanding tap’s history and formative artists.

Tap is a profoundly joyful art form, and one that is intrinsically meant to be shared with others. As a percussive dance style, it emphasizes the sounds you make and how you make them, often much more than how a step looks. No one who has ever wandered by a studio where a tap class is taking place would describe it as a quiet environment. “When I’m teaching, it’s not just a one-way sharing process,” says Cook, who began dancing as a toddler but side-stepped into the professional tap scene while working in public relations at Broadway Dance Center, where she also teaches. “That’s the beauty of tap dance. It’s always collaborative, it’s always expressive.” Tap and jazz add a great deal to the sonic tapestry of New York City, which influences the art in turn: “You meet people from all over the globe, and you’re going to hear different perspectives in their dancing and their stories. You can’t help but soak up everything that comes your way here.”

Although it stems from a specific cultural context, tap has a popularity that spans the globe—and it has evolved into a somewhat universal language for its practitioners. At Broadway Dance Center, there are often international students who don’t share a spoken language with Cook, but “it’s not a problem, because we can both hear where the one is, we can both hear a groove, and that’s what we need to get started.” 

While videos of tap stars like Savion Glover, Dormeshia, Jason Samuels Smith or Michelle Dorrance might showcase the intricacies that are possible with mastery of the tap shoe, Cook emphasizes that newcomers don’t need to be afraid of it. “There’s so much that can be found in the basic notes you can get out of a tap shoe,” Cook says. “I think the biggest misconception people have about tap is they think it’s too late to try it. It is absolutely never, ever too late, because we see some of the greats teaching well into their 80s—my mentor, Mabel Lee, taught into her 90s! She was proof that we can do this for the length of our entire lives.”

Tap is… “Joyful, expressive, homage, tradition, community.”

Why you should give tap a try: “It’s really fun to be an embodiment of music, to see what music in motion looks and feels like,” Cook says. “I promise it will make you smile. And you don’t have to be perfect! If you were perfect, you wouldn’t need class. So come to class.”

Where to dance with April Cook: Broadway Dance Center, advanced beginner tap on Tuesday afternoons, intermediate tap on Thursday afternoons

Visit broadwaydancecenter.com for the most up-to-date class offerings.

Olly Elyte

Queer line dance enthusiast

The first time Olly Elyte attended Stud Country, it was “kind of as a joke, initially,” they say. “‘Come queer line dancing!’ It sounds like a silly thing to do, you know?” Elyte comes from a family of dancers and grew up in their mom’s dance studio, but quit dancing as a teenager in part because of how “it all felt very weird and gendered to me.” But at Stud Country, they were shocked at how quickly they “became addicted to it”: “As soon as I started doing it, I was like, ‘I forgot how good this felt.’”

Stud Country, which offers line dancing lessons and mixers explicitly for the LGBTQ+ community in a handful of cities, has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in the few years it’s been around. Elyte credits this to a number of factors. One is how easy it is to pick up line dancing. “It’s repetitive, there’s so much structure, but you can make it your own and you’re still doing it correctly,” they say. “As long as you’re doing the very simple step—whatever the rest of your body does, however you interpret it—you can’t really do it wrong.” Another might be the recent wave of country-western sensibilities and aesthetics in pop culture. (Cowboy Carter, anyone?) There’s also the relative scarcity of line dancing in New York City as compared to the rest of the country—Big Apple Ranch, which gathers on the second Saturday of every month, has been the rare exception—and of explicitly queer spaces that aren’t centered on drinking and partying. (Alcohol is available, but Elyte describes the event as “very wholesome.”)

Most importantly, Stud Country has been at the vanguard of reclaiming what is often viewed as—and often is—an emphatically cisgender, heterosexual American pursuit, to create a safe, inclusive, joyful space for the queer community. That’s what seems to keep people like Elyte coming back. “It’s the layer of queer and trans joy,” they say. “It’s so awesome and such a new concept, to be able to dance and feel gender euphoria. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever felt before. When we’re all in there doing it, it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. It’s a beautiful, social, queer thing to do.” 

Queer line dancing is… “Euphoric, liberating, dopamine, community, belonging.”

Why you should try it: “It’s for everyone,” Elyte says. “Also, there’s no pressure. Come and enjoy the energy and the scene. No one’s going to judge you. It’s a good time even if you just want to have a drink with your friends and watch.”

Where to go queer line dancing: Stud Country, Monthly Party at Brooklyn Bowl (next dates June 25 and July 23), which will go weekly in August; Monthly Two-Step Mixer at Georgia Room; Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City (July 25); Big Apple Ranch every second Saturday of the month.

Visit studcountry.us/nyc and bigappleranch.com for the most up-to-date schedules.


Hip-hop teacher, the Ailey Extension

Hip-hop dance has been inextricable from the genre’s music since the legendary Bronx block party where hip-hop was born more than 50 years ago. In her classes at the Ailey Extension, TweetBoogie emphasizes the music and culture tied to the form. “I’m always playing different sounds of music, not just one era,” she says. “I like to not put myself in a box. If I just listen to one sound, how creative can I be? Hip-hop keeps changing. The movement keeps changing. I want to be able to grow with the music because I want my students to be able to grow with the music, and I want to be able to relate to them.”

TweetBoogie credits growing up in New York City for her exposure and openness to different musical styles and subgenres. She can vividly recall the first time she was confident enough to jump into the cipher—a circle of people with a dancer or two freestyling in the center—at a party in her building in the South Bronx. “I was maybe 8 years old, and everybody watching me was cheering me on, and I remember saying to myself, I don’t want to lose that: that feeling of support, how confident I felt,” she says. “I was very shy as a kid, but dance is what gave me my physical voice. People will put themselves in a box, but hip hop will allow you to not have to be in that box. You’re able to be so free.”

Hip-hop is also an inherently social dance form, which is something TweetBoogie sees missing from those who focus solely on TikTok dance challenges and the like. While they create a certain kind of confidence, “There’s such a disconnect from one person to the other. When you’re dancing with other people, you’ve gotta put the phone away!” Dancing in person also means “dancing to sweat,” and moving more than just your upper body. “When you go out, the rest of your body has to move! It’s time for you to dance in front of another person; that’s where the connection is.”

That community feeling is echoed not just in TweetBoogie’s classes, but in all of the classes at the Ailey Extension. While they take place in the same building that houses the legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey Extension classes are geared toward non-professionals. “It’s real classes for real people,” TweetBoogie says. “It’s not competitive in the classes at all. The teachers are super passionate about teaching. Our students are not just leaving with a song and dance, they really are learning and growing as individuals. They’re learning how to dance for themselves, and building confidence in that. And,” she adds with a grin, “if people really want to learn about the true, genuine art and culture of hip hop and R&B? Come see me.”

TweetBoogie’s hip-hop class is… “Talky, loud, energetic, raw, passionate.”

If you’re nervous to try: “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself!” TweetBoogie says. “Take a few classes, then decide whether it’s for you or not. Give yourself a chance to embrace the good, the bad, the ugly. Embrace the mistakes, because mistakes just show that we’re growing.”

Where to dance with TweetBoogie: The Ailey Extension, beginner hip hop on Sundays at 2pm, advanced beginner hip hop on Mondays at 6:30pm

Visit alvinailey.org/extension for the most up-to-date class offerings.

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