Let’s Dance — Cabaret Law Repealed

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A law known as the Cabaret Law was put into place during Prohibition to restrict dancing in New York City Bars. It was enacted in attempt to control speakeasies and since the 1920’s, bars and restaurants needed to obtain a cabaret license to allow dancing. In New York city, only 97 out of roughly 25,000 eating and drinking establishments had a cabaret license because these licenses were both extremely costly and time consuming to obtain. This November, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio repealed this law. Beginning this weekend, March 30, 2018 legal dancing in the city’s designated zones is allowed.

Our main question – who even knew about this law? Bars did. For being known as the city that never sleeps, how could dancing all night be banned? As New Yorkers, we walk into bars and see people dancing, grooving, swaying along to music but never once did it cross the average patrons mind that this was illegal. How have so many establishments been able to get around this law for so long?

It is said that the Cabaret Law wasn’t necessarily put in place to cut down on dancing, but rather to crack down on the people who dance. “The Cabaret Law was enacted during the height of Harlem Renaissance” and “even years after the law was enacted it targeted marginalized groups under the pretense that somehow they were more dangerous than anyone else. Basically, anything the NYPD deemed dangerous, this law was used to get in those spaces and shut them down” (Thrillist).

Over the decades, many bars have been forced to shut down after being hit with major citations. Bar owners and bartenders kept music down and dancing to a minimum to avoid these fines and penalties. Ever been asked to stop dancing by a bartender? This is why. Certain bars throughout the city have been fined purely for letting people “sway” to music.

So, what’s about to change? To some, it may not seem like a lot. But, to others, their favorite spots might turn into the bars their owners always dreamed they would be. Bars are more likely to start promoting dancing and music just because they can. This could change the entire nightlife culture throughout NYC. According to Thrillist, Royal Palms’ owner stated “we never had plans to become a dance club.” But, with this new appeal she said, “we might be a little bit more encouraging in our advertising and social media about coming to the club to get down.”

When dancing is banned, people still find a way to get down. Warehouse parties with well-known or aspiring DJs have become quite a scene. These parties are drug filled and considered “underground”. Many of them don’t announce the location until the day of; which, most warehouse party-goers probably didn’t realize is because the parties are illegal. The New York Times quoted “when we stop people from dancing they go straight to these warehouses…People haven’t stopped dancing, they’re just dancing in these extremely unsafe, unregulated environments”. Well, this is all changing.

Going out for a night on the town, dancing with some friends, and enjoying the best that music has to offer no longer means being restricted by certain DJs sets, having to go to a concert, being required to get a table at an elite club, or heading to an unknown location at a specific time. Now, you can bust a move wherever you please. Bars and restaurants will begin promoting a more focused music and dance culture. Random dance parties can, and will, breakout wherever anyone sees fit.

After signing the repeal De Blasio said “when freedom of expression is not allowed, it’s not New York City anymore. Imagine how insane it was that you needed a license to allow people to dance.” We couldn’t agree more.