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Dance revolution! Proposed NYC Cabaret Law repeal would make it legal

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Everybody cut loose, footloose, and put on your dancing shoes.

Various NYC politicians have proposed repealing remnants of the despised Cabaret Law, which made dancing at most borough venues illegal from 1926 until 2017, when it was repealed. Separate Cabaret Law zoning regulations are still on the books, but possibly not for much longer. 

“We can’t let outdated regulations hold back our economic recovery from COVID-19,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “Our food and drink establishments have been hammered by the pandemic, and many are in dire financial straits.”  

Legislation proposed on Aug. 26 by Adams and New York City Council Members Keith Powers and Mark Levine would “end the city’s zoning laws over dancing and entertainment, so establishments would be regulated based on capacity venue, rather than zoning” reads a New York City Council press release.

In other words, there may soon be no question of where you can dance in New York City, only how many dancers a venue can fit. 

“It is well beyond time for the era of NYC acting like the small town in Footloose to come to an end,” said longtime attorney for the nightlife industry Robert Bookman in the release, one of two comparisons to the 1984 Kevin Bacon film in the release. 

“Four years ago, the City Council did its part to repeal this outdated and anti-expression law, and now, the Department of City Planning must bring zoning restrictions over dancing and entertainment at bars and restaurants to an end,” said Justin Harrison, senior policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union, calling the 2017 motion a repeal of the Cabaret Law in “theory” and the new proposal a repeal of it in “practice.” 

Other naysayers quoted in the release pointed out that the current timing is as good as ever and would serve as a big boost to the city’s pandemic-battered hospitality and entertainment industries. 

“As the owner of a bar that features live entertainment, I know first-hand how crushing COVID-19 has been to the livelihoods of our staff and performers – many of whom are working singers, dancers, and actors,” said actor and activist Alan Cumming, who is also the co-owner of Club Cumming. “I also know firsthand the inconvenience and huge costs in lawyers’ fees just to be able to stay in business when the antiquated Zoning Resolutions restrictions on dancing and entertainment are weaponized and used against small business owners – historically especially among Black, Latino and other minorities. That’s why I’m proud to stand with Council Member Keith Powers in calling on the City Planning Commission to take immediate action to support the recovery of small businesses and the arts by amending the zoning resolution to allow entertainment and dancing in all eating and drinking establishments.”

If the Cabaret Law is finally repealed in the upcoming months it would be perfect timing as the city finally seems to be rebounding after the Covid-19 pandemic. Times Square pedestrian traffic has increased to more than half of its 355,000 pre-pandemic level and tourism, which peaked at 70 million in 2019 is on track to hit 31 million this year



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