High Line Park engages local residents with Latin dance parties


Latin dance party at the High Line

“¡Arriba! Dance Parties on the High Line” attendees dance the night away on the High Line park on August 27, 2014. Photo: Chancellor Agard.

The High Line Park was transformed into an open air dance floor in late August as over 400 people — a record crowd —  danced under the stars and listened to the music of the Cuban band Nu D’Lux.

“¡Arriba! Dance Parties on the High Line” is part of High Line Live!, a series of live performances and activities. Now in its third year, the monthly dance program is an attempt on the part of Friends of the High Line to engage local Chelsea residents.

“This program is part of a series of programs that have been created looking at who are our neighbors and in which ways they can use the park and benefit from the park,” said Friends of the High Line’s Gonzalo Casals, director of programs, education and community engagement. “And this program was specifically designed for an older crowd in the neighborhood—Latino crowd in the neighborhood—that wasn’t necessarily seeing that the park was something for them.”

Tai-chi and other lunchtime concerts are also being planned to further involve the local community.

For the “Arriba” series, Friends of the High Line partnered with Hudson Guild,  a private social service agency in the Chelsea area that provides a wide-range of social services for all ages. According to Casals, Hudson Guild has helped the High Line spread the word about the program.

“The High Line’s been making an effort to engage people from the Guild’s community,” said Jim Furlong, director of arts at the Hudson Guild. “Specifically, the public housing developments for low-income families where we’re situated: the Elliot-Chelsea houses and the Fulton Houses—to try and get some of those people to come to the High Line. They’re just a few blocks away and weren’t using it that much.”

Long time president of the Fulton Houses tenants association Miguel Acevedo said that many of the Fulton Houses residents regularly attend.

“Those were great,” said Lenny Rosado, a security manager and a Fulton Houses resident who regularly attended the dance series. “A lot of people joined in. It was amazing to see a lot of people listening to the music. I know a lot of people who were looking for it.” Rosado considers it “something nice for the neighborhood.”

Because the response to the program has been so great, the High Line is thinking of adding more dates next summer, says Casals.

The dance parties generally attract people from outside the neighborhood, as well.  Susan Horowitz and Edgar Calcedo, who hail from Brooklyn and Staten Island respectively, came to the event because they are fans of the music genre and have been dancing since they were little kids, which came across as they made every move look effortless. Eliu Cruz, another attendee, heard about the event on Facebook and came from East Harlem with two friends.

“They’re [the bands] bringing a following,” said Healing Arts Initiative’s Patty Reitkopf, director of access programs. Healing Arts Initiative booked the bands for the program. “They’re doing exactly what the High Line wants to happen, which is bringing both an ethnically diverse and geographically diverse audience.”

Orlando Martin (the Last Mambo King) and Sonido Costeño are some of the other Latin music acts that Healing Arts Initiative has booked.

The dance floor was packed from the moment Nu D’Lux started playing at 7 p.m. Some in the crowd were wearing business attire and it was clear they had just come from work, and there were others whose colorful and stylish outfits hinted that the park was just the first stop of the night. Dancing was not restricted to a designated area, and many visitors could be seen dancing throughout the park. The band played for almost two hours straight.

“It was a blast,” said Nu D’Lux bandleader Aaron Halva. “We all felt great about the show and I thought the band played super tight and offered their usual deep flavor.”

This is the third year that Nu D’Lux has participated in the Arriba series. “The audience has always been great at the High Line. “It’s a wonderful mix of our loyal fans and the mixing multitudes of tourists from all over the world that, by chance or not, are drawn by the sound and excitement,” said Halva.