At least that’s what this performance group is hoping by inventing those moves and posting short tutorials on YouTube — like the one for Fluff the Haters Away, which functions as both choreography and snap-snap attitude enhancement.
The steps are “simple, idiotic nuggets of movement,” said Ani Taj, the Cartel’s founder and choreographer. “If you want it to be a populist experience, then people have to be able to do it in some way.”
Also, “idiotic is one of our favorite things to aim for,” she explained cheerfully, on the theory that injecting a little silliness into dance attracts more than the usual high-postured balletomanes. “This is going to turn into some moshy air guitar,” she told her seven dancers at a recent rehearsal, demonstrating an opening move. “Everybody at their stripper places!”
The videos and the choreography are all part of the “shake it like you’ve got it” inclusive philosophy of the Dance Cartel, which in its two-year existence has quietly built a cool-kid following. At its sweaty monthly shows in Liberty Hall, the basement space at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan, audiences have stood and jiggled and eventually joined in as the company wove and spun and booty-popped around them, covered in crop tops and glitter. Appearances on “Conan,” with the musician and comedian Reggie Watts, and in a Yoko Ono video followed. The latest version of the Cartel’s show, “On the Floor: Remix,” which includes a retro chanteuse, a D.J. and an all-female Brazilian drum line, opened on Thursday night and runs through Saturday at the Ace.
In asking for a heightened level of engagement from its audience, it joins other boundary-stretching live experiences, like “Queen of the Night,” the new participatory dinner theater extravaganza with lascivious acrobats; the enduring “Sleep No More,” a sexy version of “Macbeth” in a Chelsea warehouse; and “Here Lies Love,” the David Byrne-Fatboy Slim-Alex Timbers collaboration, which returns to the Public Theater next week. But the Dance Cartel’s DIY mission, its ragtag artistic sensibility and — not incidentally — its low ticket prices mean to be more accessible. It’s haute-performance theory with a house party vibe.
“The work is intended to be contagious, and people pick that up,” said Kay Takeda, director of grants and services at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, which this year funded a series of pop-up performances around town. “We’ve been looking at them for a while, and this year we could see that what they say is happening is happening — they are actually getting people on the floor to start dancing. That’s a lot of fun.”
Merging club styles, precision choreography, live music and multimedia in site-specific locales, with audience participation — “we haven’t seen any other project that’s seeking to do this same thing,” Ms. Takeda added.
For Ms. Taj, 26, who grew up on the Upper West Side and started dancing at 5, the show is an extension of her background (her father, Edmund Niemann, is a pianist who played with Steve Reich; her mother, Donna Niemann, is a former theater artist and nonprofit administrator with an activist bent) and her own interests: vintage musical theater, doo-wop, hip-hop, 1980s neon and the culture of Brazil, where she studies and teaches yearly.
There, “music and dance are part of everyone’s vocabulary from a very young age,” she said. She was inspired not only by the rhythms and movements, but also by how willing all walks were to join in.
“A lot of what I’m excited about is the transfer of our energy to the crowd,” she said of her shows. “Part of what I find frustrating in a lot of dance performances is that I’m really relegated to my seat, and often I’m falling asleep.”
Her ambition is not to dis the dance establishment but to enlarge it. To that end, her company includes comedians, M.C.s, models and apprentices — a range of bodies that won’t appear in identical leotards. “My company is not uniform; I don’t want my audience to be all the same demographic,” she said.
And she keeps the tickets affordable. “The economics of what we’re doing matter to me,” Ms. Taj said. “We’re struggling sometimes to make ends meet because of this, but I don’t want to offer tickets that are really more than $20. I think it’s important that my friends from deep Brooklyn and the Bronx can come to this show; otherwise, like, what am I doing?”
Her director, Sam Pinkleton, shares her technical rigor and sense of play. (They met at New York University, where they each earned a B.F.A. in drama, and where Ms. Taj teaches dance in the experimental-theater program.)
“I’m very firmly rooted in the institutional theater world,” said Mr. Pinkleton, also 26, a director and choreographer whose credits include “Machinal” on Broadway. “I feel like I so often am working for people four times my age, and to see regular people enjoy live performance and participate in live performance and not be humiliated is major.”
“Often, we’re like, ‘Are we being offensive or are we being idiotic?’ and I think those questions are exciting,” he added. “It’s why we’re doing it in a basement of a hotel and not at Movement Research” for an audience of dance connoisseurs.
Alexandra Albrecht, 27, part of the Cartel since its inception, has a traditional dance background — conservatory, a dance B.F.A. — and performs with downtown choreographers like Jillian Peña, known for tweaking ballet.
“Stylistically, it’s very much the opposite of everything I’ve been doing,” Ms. Albrecht said of the Cartel. “When dancers come to the show, it’s like, ‘Who are you?’ It’s not expected of me to be a fake Britney Spears backup dancer,” her occasional look with the Dance Cartel.
But, she added, “I think it’s made me more confident as a performer.” For their latest 80-minute show, she will enter as a ninja, complete with nunchakus, before spinning into the crowd.
The dancers are “their own kind of absurdist, surreal superhero,” Ms. Taj said, “like wacko Power Rangers.”
At a recent performance at Le Poisson Rouge, the Cartel followed a group of nearly naked twerkers to the stage. To a soundtrack that included “Pulla Stunt,” by the rapper Zebra Katz, and Wings’ “Live and Let Die,” they turned pirouettes into cartwheels and leapt to the floor, trailing glitter. The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” came on, and they did a partner number straight out of “Dirty Dancing.” The crowd, which had watched the twerkers listlessly, was suddenly at attention, and when the Dance Cartel exited, they filled in the space, raucous and grooving.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Deenie Hartzog, 31, a magazine copy director and style writer from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who saw the Cartel’s show at the Ace last summer, when it included pop choreography, high-velocity video, power singing, and a rap duo from the queer collective House of Ladosha. “I thought, what a weird thing, but it totally worked,” she said. “It was really, really fun. And I liked the fact that not everybody was a professionally trained dancer.”
Ms. Hartzog, a former dancer, came primed to join in. Taking in the scene only drove her fervor. “It’s almost like, the longer, the better,” she said. “Everyone’s so jazzed by the time you get to dance.”
She wore a prized silk jumpsuit. “I danced so hard that I actually ripped the back of my pants,” she said unabashedly, “from the crotch all the way up.” Her backside was out there; her moves did not stop. “I was like, ‘Well, that’s what happens when you have a really good dance party.' ”