Volunteer Spotlight : Ilya Kushnirsky

Dance Parade, Inc. is a volunteer supported non-profit organization!
It is the dedication, expertise and rhythm of these brave few that are solely responsible for the success of the event and all the background work that goes on all year long leading up to the parade and festival. Every month, we choose a different volunteer to spotlight.  We ask them a few questions to let you know who they are, where they’ve come from and where they see themselves in the future.

Ilya Kushnirsky

Chair, Legal Committee

How did you first stumble upon Dance Parade?

I was a director of the Astoria-based Wonderland Collective until it closed down in February. Wonderland had roots in the underground dance and nightlife culture. I met Dance Parade founder Greg Miller through that network. As an arts lawyer, I also knew about New York’s cabaret laws.
What is your current role in Dance Parade?

I’m the chair of the legal committee, which in some organizations is called general counsel. I oversee and handle the organization’s general legal needs, like permits, vendor contracts, insurance, and intellectual property. For specialized issues like artist visas, we have immigration counsel and outside assistance.
What is your favorite style of dance to watch? to participate in?

To watch, definitely b-boying / breaking, when it’s done intelligently, with a sense of humor and a sense of history. The master of my undergraduate residential college was a hip-hop scholar, and he often invited Crazy Legs and the original Manhattan Rock Steady Crew to perform for us in his living room. So I got to start at the top. A lot of the hip-hop dancers you see on the dance competition shows on TV are technically proficient but lack heart and cultural awareness; it’s just forced attitude – it’s not true to hip-hop. If you want to see hunger and innovation, spend time in the subways, go to some parks.
What is your dance background?

I don’t dance much myself. For me it’s more of a first amendment issue and an educational outreach issue – people should be able to express themselves through dance, and people need to know the historical context. Dancing in New York has a long and troubled legal history. A lot of people – even lawyers I talk to – don’t realize the cabaret laws are still in effect. The cabaret laws are a set of local laws dating back to the Prohibition that prohibit dancing in bars and restaurants – unless the establishment buys an expensive cabaret license from the city. Remember when New York used to be a global center for nightlife? When Giuliani ran on a platform of “cleaning up” the city, he basically stopped issuing licenses and the nightlife dried up, and it hasn’t really recovered. The city is only allowed to regulate dancing because “social dancing” doesn’t receive first amendment protection – the courts don’t consider it expressive. Until 1988, you couldn’t have live music in bars or restaurants either. It’s time to retire these laws. New Yorkers like to think we live in a progressive city, but you won’t find a “No Dancing Allowed” sign in a bar in Akron, Ohio.
If you could share the stage with anyone in history famous or not, living or deceased, a trained dancer or not, performing a routine choreographed by yourself…who would it be?

I’ll leave the dancing to the dancers. I’m happy playing a support/empowerment role.
What does the Dance Parade slogan “one parade, many cultures” mean to you?

It’s a smart slogan because it reminds us that dancing is natural. Go back 10,000 years, and you’ll find evidence of people dancing. Go around the globe, and every culture has its dance traditions. Ultimately, you can’t regulate human nature.
What dance group are you most looking forward to seeing this year in the parade?

I love the drum lines. They’re perfectly suited for the street parade format, and they’re classy and organized. They’re a calming presence.
If you could pick a Grand Marshall for this year’s parade….who would it be?

Purely from a publicity standpoint, Lady Gaga is the obvious choice. She went to Tisch a couple blocks from the grandstand, and she started out playing some of the clubs on the parade route. She’s also a good spokesperson, and she’s huge, obviously. I’m not crazy about her music though, so from a selfish perspective, I’d go with Kylie Minogue or Madonna, or even Beyonce. Any of those would be a coup.
Part of volunteering has a lot to do with strong leadership skills and major teamwork skills….if you were to pick a volunteer of the month…who would you choose?

Everyone answers Greg Miller, right? Greg is the founder and mastermind behind Dance Parade. Most volunteer organizations go nowhere. Dance Parade gets the greatest city in the world to close off part of its most iconic street and people come from all over the world to dance down it. It sounds like a fever dream. Pulling that off takes vision, dedication, and pragmatism.
If you could pick another country to hold a Dance Parade and Festival….which would it be?

Anywhere in Europe really. The problem in America is that religion inevitably seeps into government, and as a result you have these laws prohibiting dance. Europeans respect the separation a bit more, so the government isn’t as interested in telling people what they can or can’t do with their bodies. I’ve gone to music festivals in England and Hungary, and the kids just go completely crazy. There’s not that social pressure to hold back to avoid being judged.
Volunteering at a non profit organization can at times be daunting and frustrating with limited personnel and limited funding….what is it that keeps you coming back for more and more?

I’ve worked at companies with seemingly unlimited resources and manpower, and it’s not any easier, just different. With Dance Parade there’s an opportunity to build something and make history. It shows the early signs of a successful grassroots movement.
Describe your most special memory from Dance Parades past?

I remember walking into Tompkins Square Park for the Dance Fest, and seeing it just packed with people. This was before I was involved with the organization, and I just wasn’t expecting that turnout. There’s a symbolism there too: as early as the nineteenth century, Tompkins Square Park was a center for activism and protest – in fact, it was rebuilt to better divide and manage crowds of protesters. In the late 80s, the park was in a bad place – heroin, riots, and the Butcher of Tompkins Square (look it up) – so the city shut it down for a year in 1991, and all of the activists moved to Union Square, where they still are. It’s good to recapture that feeling of people getting together in a positive, community-minded, activist-oriented way in Tompkins Square.
What salesman pitch would you use to attract a new volunteer into the cult that is Dance Parade?

The first thing I’d do is assure them it’s not a cult. But seriously, it’s easy to participate, and you don’t even need to be a dancer – I’m not. Just ask yourself whether you think dancing is expressive. If you answer yes, then do you have a couple hours to help get the message across? It’s up to you.


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