Updated: Nov 9, 2018
After nearly a century of having to suffer under the archaic "No Dancing Law"; otherwise officially known as the Cabaret Law, New York City is fully integrating something that has always been so vital to the city's heart and soul: Its Nightlife!
While some may have thought for years walking around NYC that dancing was somehow illegal, with signs that hung in Barrooms and different venues that read "No Dancing", this was actually untrue. What was true however, is that the city ordered any venue that would have hosted any dancing type of events, to apply for a license that was not only expensive, but also created an incredibly cumbersome and bureaucratic process on top of the already existing layers of paperwork that had to be applied for to have such a venue, making it often impossible for many to follow through. Passed in 1926, The Cabaret Law; in many ways like the R.A.V.E. Act in the early 2000's, aimed at curtailing freedom of expression, and it is now well understood that the nature of the law itself was primarily racially motivated, as it mainly targeted Harlem clubs and Jazz events where black people would gather.
In the late 90's and early 2000's, with the heavy enforcement of the Cabaret Law by former city Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; something that at times under different administrations was not as much of an issue, the city saw a huge decline in a healthy nightlife. Founder of the American Rave scene, DJ Frankie Bones, explained to us in a brief interview that the law: "Totally killed the Club Scene in Manhattan and partially why Brooklyn became the club mecca it is today. The Cabaret law wasn't really enforced outside of Manhattan even though the outer boroughs were part of New York City."
Dance Parade gathering w/ Frankie Bones (Grand Marshall of Dance Parade) © Dance Parade
Over the past several years however, grassroots organizations such as Dance Parade and Dance Liberation Network would come together to enthusiastically demonstrate in favor of something so intrinsic to human nature, and put pressure on City Council to finally after so many attempts, repeal the Cabaret Law. Frankie Bones, who was Grand Marshall at the 11th Annual Dance Parade said that he believes these demonstrations definitely played a major role in why the city decided to finally get rid of this nonsensical piece of legislation.
But credit must also be given where it is due, and the move to finally repeal the Cabaret Law would not have been possible without the help of 33 year old councilman Rafael Espinal, who introduced bill No. 1652, and had it signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio; another important key figure in this momentum gathering, as the Left-leaning administration hugely supported the Cabaret Law's repeal, and strongly rejected its racist origins.
The next step for New York City has been to create an "Office of Nightlife", which will serve as a medium between the city government and industry professionals, helping to administrate all areas involved in the city's newly revitalized nightlife, which include certain safety regulations found in the language of what was the most current version of the Cabaret Law; such as staffing and security surveillance for example. A Nightlife Director will also be appointed by the Mayor, as well as a 12 member Nightlife Advisory Board. Another important thing to note is that while Dancing will be legal in many parts of the city, it will be in areas zoned for commercial manufacturing, where it was possible before to obtain a Cabaret License. Other parts will have to wait for zoning laws to change.
Indeed an incredibly oppressive era for New York City has finally come to an end, and it couldn't have come at a better time, given the incredible work put forth in Detroit by members of the Detroit-Berlin Connection council, headed by Dimitri Hegemann of the legendary Berlin club Tresor. There, members of the DBC and City Council are also working together to create a robust nightlife in the city, repurposing old factory buildings and helping to change laws like the current curfew, in order to facilitate a proper nightlife in a city so rife with crime and political and social turmoil.
One of the legendary Storm raves in NYC © Frankie Bones
For the city that never sleeps, it may come as a surprise for those of us that did not grow up or live there, that something so natural such as dancing was so oppressed and that it had affected its nightlife the way the Cabaret Law had for nearly a century. For years there was talk in the Electronic Music scene of how the city had suffered not just from this law and Giuliani's enforcement of it, but also from the tragedy of 9/11, and the subsequent effects all of this had on its citizens. Record stores closed down such as the famous sonic groove, and iconic DJs such as Adam X and Frankie Bones had to pursue furthering their careers elsewhere as the city, albeit improved in quality of life in many ways, did not seem to support something that should have always been intrinsic to its culture, and without suppression: Its nightlife. Thankfully, now the city will sleep a little less, and its people will dance a lot more!