New York City Could Finally Undo Obscure “No-Dancing” Law

    We're not in Bomont anymore...

    Credit: Earlham College Photography - Creative Commons

    New York City is home to one of America’s most attractive nightlife scenes. Boasting a history rich with such culturally influential clubs as Studio 54, CBGB, and Max’s Kansas City, there’s hardly a more critical booster of the city’s dynamism than its music.

    How bizarrely antiquated it seems then that it’s in the current year, 2017, that New York City Council will be convening to deliberate on the lawfulness of its denizens’ dancing customs.

    As recently outlined by Resident Advisor, the city’s current official stricture holds that alcohol-serving establishments are forbidden—strangely—from overseeing the devilish decadence of “three or more people dancing at the same time” without a proper license. (If you’re a devoted smart alec, you could technically find one willing partner and have the theoretical dancefloor to yourselves, but such a schtick I’m sure is quick to lose its novelty.)

    Fortunately, the local government has an opportunity to do away with this unnecessary hindrance on July 19th, when a meeting between city council and activists is scheduled to take place. The meeting is sponsored by Councilman Rafael Espinal, who has been a reliable critic of the “no-dancing” law.

    If this edict sounds improbably archaic, that’s because it is. Introduced in 1926, the law has sat on the books largely forgotten, invoked only highly selectively and enforced with extreme irregularity. That is, until the Giuliani administration’s “quality of life” campaign of the 1990s. In the years following the mayor’s reign, however, the law’s status has retreated back to its earlier inconsistency.

    But the obscurity of the law hasn’t it stopped it from being abused by law enforcement. “The dance law is used as a ‘Trojan horse’ to get enforcement through the door,” New York’s Dance Liberation Network told Resident Advisor.

    The unintended consequence of such overreach, it suffices to say, is that the city suffers both culturally and economically. The arbitrary requirement of special dance licenses and the selective application of its enforcement imposes a needless burden on the city’s service industry while depriving a space for art and creativity to incubate.

    And failure to comply with the law is no minor transgression. Resident Advisor observes, “the resulting fines for businesses found in violation of the law are significant enough to seriously endanger smaller establishments.”

    The councilmen and activists will discuss not only the notorious Cabaret Law at the slated meeting but also the potential establishment of a special city nightlife department and even deploying a designated “night mayor.” While it’s true that such institutions already exist in places like Amsterdam and London, it’s perhaps difficult to imagine how constructively they’d operate in NYC, where bureaucracy is more prone to stifle business than promote it.

    In any case, revoking the weird but cumbersome “no-dancing” law stands to benefit small business owners, artists, and New York citizens alike.

    You can learn more at the official Facebook event page for the forthcoming city council meeting.