You Can Dance If You Want To

It’s time to get rid of New York City’s antiquated and discriminatory cabaret law, RPA argued in testimony presented to the New York City Council last week.

Established in 1926, this prohibition-era law prohibits dancing in NYC establishments that don’t have a cabaret license. A recent bill introduced by Councilmember Rafael Espinal seeks to repeal the law while also establishing an Office of Nightlife to better regulate and encourage the city’s nightlife economy.

Of the thousands of nightlife establishments in the city, only 133 hold the expensive and difficult to obtain a cabaret license. Without a license, no more than three people are allowed to dance at a time in an establishment.

According to Sarah Serpas, RPA Associate Planner and author of the testimony, the city’s cabaret law is rooted in racial discrimination, and has been selectively enforced, largely to the detriment of the city’s traditionally marginalized communities.

The bill before the city council is important for a number of reasons. Reforming the way New York regulates nightlife is not only about equity and cultural expression, but it’s also a matter of sound urban planning to create a more vibrant city.  

“To create a city that competes on a global stage and recognizes its wealth of locally occurring culture, New York must support spaces for the arts – including smaller, more informal spaces for nightlife and dance. By creating a Nightlife Task Force and Office of Nightlife, perhaps the city can better understand it’s valuable arts and culture resources, and therefore better serve them,” said Serpas.


Photo: istolethetv/flickr

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