If your in New York City chances are you've walked into a bar or restaurant and thought 'ok yea I'm going to sway, and shimmy and dance a little to this great music playing.' Well guess what.... you were BREAKING THE LAW!
For almost a century, group dancing was illegal at any establishment without a proper license. "It was kind of like Footloose. It was ridiculous!” says Jeff Blanchard, the owner of metal bar Lucky 13 Saloon in Gowanus. Mayor Bill de Blasio repeald what was known as the 'Cabaret Law' basically banning dance and allowing the city to ticket bar owners if they see you dancing in their establishment. “Years from now we’re going to look back at tonight and realize that we actually started a nightlife revolution,” said New York City Council member Rafael Espinal, who brought in legislation to repeal this law.
But how did we get a law like this passed in the first place? How have we gone this long realizing that majority of New Yorkers going to bars were breaking a long-standing law? Well, this Cabaret Law was enacted in 1926.. that's right.. the roaring '20s aka speakeasies, prohibition and a fascinating time for New York City. A committee justified that “When strangers came to New York City they wanted to ‘run wild’ ... The ‘wild’ strangers are not at all interested in our great museums of art and history, in our magnificent churches and public libraries, our splendid parks and public monuments. They are interested in speak-easies and dance halls.” The city leaders were not trying to cut down on dancing, but on the kind of people who danced.
Those "no dancing" signs you saw in bars we seriously no joke. Owners across New York were really fined, some up to thousands of dollars, for letting their customers dance in their bar. Muchmore’s Williamsburg bar was fined in 2013 because he allowed some customers to “sway” to some music, according to the citation. (He dropped his lawsuit when the law was repealed, and now plans to hold regular dance parties.)
Even as recently as 2015, an owner of a bar got fines $300. The owner who asked to not be named said police showed up at his venue. When asked about the craziness at the bar he stated, "If I had to guess, it was around four people,” he continues, “just a couple people bopping around. There was a DJ. It was the end of the night.”
De Blasio signed the repeal into law at Elsewhere, a sprawling multi-purpose venue in Bushwick. “When freedom of expression is not allowed, it’s not New York City anymore,” he said. “Imagine how insane it was that you needed a license to allow people to dance.”
“This bill is now law,” the mayor declared. And some people in the crowd began to dance....