Dancer used as poster girl for New York’s recovery repeatedly stopped from performing

By Gustaf Kilander
New York City government

A New York City dancer who allowed City Hall to use an image of her to boost the city’s recovery efforts has been repeatedly stopped by the NYPD from dancing in public.

Kanami Kusajima, 24, was asked by the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio if an image of her could be used for a poster. The caption later read: “No stopping New York.” The poster appeared on bus shelters and sidewalk kiosks across New York City.

Following parties in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park that sparked the ire of residents in the area and garnered attention from the media, the New York City Police Department has been trying to suppress the dancer’s performances as they try to enforce a rule that prohibits loud music.

But Ms Kusajima reportedly uses a small speaker and plays gentle music such as classical piano and jazz to accompany her performances. She also performs in the afternoon, far ahead of any parties in the park. But police officers have still told her on numerous occasions to turn off the music.

“By using my photo, they admitted that street performers are an important part of New York,” she said according to Curbed. “At the same time, they are cracking down on us instead of supporting us.”

One of her confrontations with officers was widely seen across social media. In a clip posted to Instagram, she tells the officers asking her to shut down her performance that she allowed the city to use her image with no charge and as a group of people gather around her, the officers let her be.

“If I was only by myself, they would possibly give me a ticket or possibly get me arrested,” she told Curbed. The NYPD told the outlet that the penalty for playing amplified music is a summons and that it’s up to “each individual officer” to decide how to enforce the rule.

“What I want to do every day is spread positive energy,” the 24-year-old said when speaking about the attention her interaction with police officers had received.

She started taking lessons in modern dance when she was just six years old in Yokohama, Japan. As an 18-year-old, she moved on to study dance at Purchase College in Westchester, north of New York City. She was living on campus at the start of the pandemic. She said the online courses “really made me crazy”.

“I wasn’t sharing my dance with anybody. I’m just dancing for the same tables and chairs and walls every day, over and over,” she told Curbed.

After dancing alongside a Japanese painter, she has been performing on her own six days a week in the park following the artist’s return to Japan.

“They are just standing there for hours and hours,” Ms Kusajima told Curbed of the officers. “I imagine it’s kind of painful to see all those people who are enjoying art and coming together and feeling the community and real humanity, but they can’t.”

Painter Navil Corbetts told the outlet that he had been bothered by officers for showing the prices of his artworks.

“The problem is not them,” Mr Corbetts said. “They just follow rules. The people that are on top, that have the money, that live around here, they want to change things. But for six generations the park has been like this — how you gonna change it?”

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