What It’s Like to Be Crowned the Best Elaine by a Stadium of Cheering Seinfeld Fans

Side-by-side: A woman doing the Elaine dance with the thumbs-up, and Elaine doing the same dance on Seinfeld.
Mary Notari doing a spot-on Elaine. Photos by Celeste Muñiz and NBC
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

On Saturday, the Cyclones—Brooklyn’s minor-league baseball team, based in Coney Island—held their annual Seinfeld Night. The Cyclones host many themed games, but Seinfeld Night, inspired by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s hit ’90s New York sitcom, is by far the most popular one, making national news and packing the stands since its start in 2014. A tradition of this game—which, like many minor-league showcases, is peppered with audience-participation challenges between innings—is the Elaine Dance Contest, which has gone viral with the help of New York’s main social media documentarian, Nicolas Heller, better known as New York Nico. The contest is inspired by a plotline in the episode “The Little Kicks” in which the character Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds out that she is a horrible dancer, moving more like, as George puts it, “a full-body dry heave set to music.”

This year, 38-year-old Brooklyn resident Mary Notari won out as the funniest-dancing Elaine. The Baltimore native, who has lived in Brooklyn for 15 years and “makes things for a living” in the manufacturing field, is no stranger to an audience. She is a veteran of New York’s independent theater scene, a former performer, and a fiend for a theme. I called Notari to talk about having the biggest win of the night. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nadira Goffe: How did you come to know about the Cyclones and Seinfeld Night?

Mary Notari: I grew up in Baltimore in the ’90s, when the Orioles were a big deal, so I have a deep love for baseball, even if I don’t follow it to the same degree that real baseball fans do. So, going to the Cyclones became a thing that me and my friend group do every summer because it’s so small, it’s so campy, because—I like to say this with love—they try so hard!

The fact that they do theme nights is on our radar because we love a theme. We love to dress up. Any excuse to be corny in that way, we are there for, and the Cyclones just eat up the corn: yum, yum, yum. They love it. So, that’s definitely a scene that I am into, if you can call that a scene. Seinfeld Night has been on our radar for a couple of years. It’s the most popular Cyclones night. It was nuts.

It was packed!

I gotta really shout out my other friend, Celeste, who actually came with me in costume as a gender-bent Kramer. We’re both theater nerds, so it was like, Obviously we’re dressing up, and I remember seeing on the Cyclones’ social media last summer that they did the Elaine Dance Contest. When I tell you that this has been something that I do at parties since forever—it’s just a little piece of physical comedy that wormed its way into my brain as a child, when I grew up on television and watched Seinfeld. I was like, Well, obviously I have to participate in this.

So you knew before going that you were going to do the dance contest?

I went with a purpose. I did.

What’s the reaction that you usually get when you bust it out at a party?

People are like, “Oh, yeah, that looks like how she does it.”

Do you have any other physical comedy moments that you often rehash in public?

Well, this is so dumb, but yes. When you take dance class, they teach you how to isolate parts of your body, and there are exercises that you can do. So my favorite game to play with myself on the dance floor is isolating different parts of my body, and my favorite type of isolation is to isolate my head: to move everything but my head. And that has since turned into a Pennywise the Clown sort of jig.

So you were destined for the Elaine Dance Contest, really. You’ve been putting the work in for quite some time. Is it fair to say that you’re a big Seinfeld fan?

Yes, but I would probably fail at Seinfeld trivia. It’s not something that I have revisited very often in adulthood. The actual dance is just imprinted in my mind, but I didn’t remember the context for why she did it in the first place. So, I did go back and watch that before the game in order to refresh my memory. Also, I wanted to see what she was wearing and see if I could re-create that.

I was going to ask about your outfit. Did you do any other prep or practice specifically for this contest?

I tried to part my hair and I tried to get my hair to look the way that she did. Then I did the dance for my friend, and she was like, “Yeah, that looks right.” That was it. There wasn’t really any practice.

Were you nervous?

At first, I was. Going down into the stadium, with all of that attention, there was a moment when my body was like, Run! Run away! but I resisted. All the other Elaines on the field, we were all just so excited. The vibes were just very happy and silly. So, as soon as the other Elaines all came together, we were like, Yeah! and it was fine.

What did it feel like to win?

Shocking. I almost physically was blown away by the sonic response coming at me from the stadium. I was truly shocked because this is just something that I thought was very fun and silly. Then to have everyone be like, Yeah! all at the same time, I was like, Oh my God, this is overwhelming. I was still fighting that fight-or-flight response to run away, even up until the last moment. But it was an absolute thrill. Oh my God, that kind of high: I don’t know what else in my life could possibly compare to the high of a Brooklyn Cyclones stadium chanting my name. What the hell.

Are you suggesting that you have peaked?

There’s video evidence of me holding that trophy and saying, “That’s it. I’ve peaked.” I hope it’s not a peak, but that might be my peak public moment. But in terms of the absolute rush, that might be the peak of my life.

Did you win anything else in addition to the trophy?

The respect of my peers. A bunch of marriage proposals in my DMs.

Wait. Are you serious?

Well, no. Because the videos made their way out into the internet through a couple of different places, specifically in the NewYorkNico comments

One of my favorite Instagram pages. I did see a marriage comment or two!

I had so many people DM me like, “I saw this.” That’s people who saw it completely independently of me reposting it. And I was like, “Wow. That’s how you know.”

No one has come up to you on the street and then—

Oh, God, no. No, no, no. That would be bonkers. Also, because I don’t look like that normally. So it would be absolutely bonkers if someone recognized me on the street. That’s not how I dress. That’s not how I wear my hair. But I did get a lot of attention after the game, even as I was just changing into comfy shoes outside of the stadium. I was trying to walk away from the stadium and I could not, because people were still asking for pictures.

What other responses were you getting from people besides wanting to take your photo? Were people saying anything to you, shouting things at you?

There was a whole other crew of people in the stadium that I was friends with in college; I had no idea they were there. They were on the other side of the stadium and stayed after to catch me, so it became this minireunion. And what else? Just a bunch of old guys giving me fist bumps, which, God, I love. I love actual die-hard Cyclones fans, the guys who follow the Cyclones because they’re Mets fans, and they’re following the players as they come up in the minors. And I’m just like, Oh, this is a species of Brooklynite that I just find so endearing. So, yeah, fist bumps, pictures, just the light in people’s eyes when they looked at me. If I could bottle that up and take it around with me, that feeling.

I have never seen a single episode of Seinfeld. I just thought that I was going to a regular minor-league baseball game and the stadium was going to be half-empty and the game was going to be kind of boring but still super fun. America’s pastime. 

Half the time, that is what a Cyclones game is.

Lo and behold, I show up, you can barely move, the line for all of the food, including the vegan stand, is super long. Every seat is filled. The cheers are going. The game is riveting. And people are carrying five to six Seinfeld bobblehead boxes in their arms, and everyone is just talking about Seinfeld. The team names are Seinfeld references. All of the games in between innings are Seinfeld references. I’m just like, What’s going on here? So, what’s the big idea? What is it about Seinfeld that gets the people going?

Oh my God, I love that. Well, I think nostalgia, at this point. Because anyone in their 30s, like me, probably grew up with it on reruns. Because it’s so New York, the humor in it is so New York–specific, it’s a stroke of genius to put two and two together with the campiness of the Cyclones. All of their theme nights are meant to do an homage to something specific to Brooklyn, New York, or a community. It makes sense to have a very iconic New York thing. It’s a TV show; it was a cultural moment in the ’90s. I can only imagine that somebody somewhere in a marketing meeting was like, “Let’s pay homage to Seinfeld, the New Yorkiest of New York comedies that’s ever comedied.”

It was definitely bananas when I was sitting there in the stadium. Like, Wow, people either really love the Cyclones or they really love Seinfeld, or both.

I do think it’s both. One of the most beautiful things about this whole thing—both the night that it happened and then the viralness of NewYorkNico’s video afterwards—is that any excuse for people to dress up and let their freak flags fly and just be silly just gives me so much joy. I had so much joy in that moment of just dancing like an insane person in front of a bunch of people. And then seeing so many other people take so much joy in that silliness, to me, is just the most beautiful thing in the world. I am a proponent of radical silliness in the world. So I just am thankful for this blowing up in the way that it has, because that is everything to me.