New Yorkers want to repeal a 90-year-old law that bans dancing in the city
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New Yorkers want to repeal a 90-year-old law that bans dancing in the city

NEW YORK -1978: A couple dancing at the disco club FunHouse in 1978.
Waring Abbott/Getty Images

New Yorkers want to cut loose. Footloose.

If you think of a place that has a law banning dancing, New York City is not the first one to come to mind. However, there has been this kind of legislation in the Big Apple for more than 90 years. Now that it’s 2017, people want the law changed.

A petition put forward by the Dance Liberation Network has been circulating to completely revoke the law.

“It’s hard to believe that our city government has a law on the books banning an act of expression as basic and universal as dancing It sounds like the behavior of a repressive regime and certainly has no place in a city as tolerant, diverse, and respectful of human expression as ours is,” it says on the petition website.

The petition currently has more than 3,000 of their goal of 5,000 signatures.

The Cabaret Law, which bans dancing in any business without a proper license, has a complicated and somewhat dubious history. It was enacted in 1926 specifically as a suppression of African-American jazz clubs in Harlem.

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The law not only banned dancing in certain establishments, it also banned jazz instruments and more than three musicians playing at one time.

In the 1940s, the law was expanded to individual nightclub performers, stating that they needed a “Cabaret Card” in order to perform. Not surprisingly, the card (as well as the license) was nearly impossible to get. According to Uproxx, “musicians had to go to the police department to be fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated about their personal lives. The cards had a two year renewal process and authorities could revoke or deny at their discretion.”

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A few performers who were put through the ringer in order to perform were Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. The Cabaret Card rule was apparently revoked because Frank Sinatra refused to acquire one.

While parts of the law have been repealed over the years, the overall law still remains in effect. Only 118 of the city’s 25,000 bars have a license. Of course, some establishments carry on dancing without a license. Because in New York City, you can dance if you want to.

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