Is The Ability To Express Oneself Through Dance An Issue of Free Speech?: The First Annual New York Dance Parade!

Yesterday marked the first annual New York Dance Parade, held as both a celebration of social dance and a protest against the city’s increasingly infamous Cabaret Laws, which sharply restrict the number of clubs and restaurants that allow dancing. In order to allow more than two people to dance simultaneously, an establishment must apply for a cabaret license, which is apparently incredibly difficult to obtain. According to Time Out New York (read their article here), this obscure law was enacted in 1926 in order to restrict public lewdness and racial intermingling, then was given new vigor during Guiliani’s reign, though I’m not sure of his ostensible reasons for that. The issue of whether such laws are unconstitutional and should be struck revolves around whether dance is viewed as a form of expression important enough to deserve First Amendment protection, an issue recently addressed by the State Supreme Court, which held that it was not. I haven’t followed this litigation, but apparently the test case has made its way to through the Appellate Division (where it likewise failed), and is hoping for consideration by the high court. I think it’s an interesting issue. According to the TONY article, the law has affected more than just people who want to dance: some bands, such as a Zydecko one, have trouble finding locales who will even allow them to play since that music, with it’s fast fun rhythmic beat leads naturally to the forbidden activity.

The parade, which began at 31st Street and snaked downtown to Washington Square Park in the Village, where it culminated in a little party, was a lot of fun. Above are some hula dancers.

Some break-dancing guys doing some crazy overhead lifts!

This girl was amazing; she could really move on those stilts!

This guy was fun too — rocking out to some techno music!

Now in the park, where Samba New York, a super fun Brazilian percussion band entertained the crowd, compelling people to really get down…

… before taking to a small stage, set up below the arches, where they added this gorgeous Samba dancer donning a brilliant costume and very elaborate feathery headgear.

There was a pretty good crowd, though I think the turn-out would have been better had the weather not been so miserable (cold, rainy and windy — worst combination possible — and for mid-late-May — totally unjustified!!)

I think the issue is really interestesing and something I’ll definitely think more about and will keep my eyes open for the litigation. But I feel that there’s always two sides to every story. I’d moved into a lovely apatment in Astoria a few years ago only to undergo a stupidly difficult ordeal of breaking my lease after realizing my apartment, in the back of the building, abutted the back room of this rather tucked away Greek nightclub (not visible from the street) that stayed open until 5:00 a.m. every night but Monday and had singers and music. I’m a lawyer, though, and have to sleep at night; perhaps someone who either worked nights or was just a very heavy sleeper would have been fine with the apartment, but there was simply no way I could stay. Maybe the answer is either some kind of zoning or just apartment buildings being forced to be up front about something like that, but I can see the issue. Also, even if the law changes restaurants may have to increase their security, which is a very unfortunate stupid pain in the butt but may be necessary. At the park, I noticed one older guy was a little out of control really kind of grabbing this female dancer, and thrusting his pelvis into hers a bit too much. It seemed to make her uncomfortable but she was young and didn’t really know how to handle it and didn’t want to be rude. Unfortunately, there are guys who still don’t seem to get that a woman’s dancing is not an invitation to sex and doesn’t entitle them to grab and grope and do whatever else they want. Of course professional female dancers sometimes get harassed as well so that’s not at all an issue specific to social dancing… Dance is most definitely an invaluable form of expression, but very unfortunately, it’s not always the law that vitiates it.


  1. a lot of my friends were in this. But I was feeling so under the weather I didn’t go.
    Not to disagree about the pushy guy, but that shit happens on the subway too.
    Especially when you are young because, as you said, they know less well how to deal with it ( I now have less people groping me and more exposing themselves…nice! :P)

    I guess my point is men are often scummy and will harass women no matter what if that’s in their nature (like the 5 teens who attacked me on the street a few years ago).

    Of course not all or even most men are like that. But the ones who are can be menaces no matter what the circumstances.


  2. err that emoticon was supposed to be a sticky out tongue, but it looks like I’m smiling. to clarify I am NOT into people exposing themselves to me on the subway and will usually scream at them. Though that went wrong when one of the perpetrators tried to hit me in the face.

    My life is SO exciting!!!

  3. I couldn’t stop laughing at your emoticon! Yeah, you’re right, the perverts will be perverts whenever they have a chance… and definitely most men are not like that; it’s just a few who ruin it for everyone. I was groped once on a subway but it happened as I was exiting and it was so crowded I had no idea who did it, which is why he probably did. I’ve never been flashed on the subway — that I know of, though I think a couple of times someone was trying to and I just refused to look at him. I know I could yell at them, but like you say, that can end up going the wrong way. Ugh, that’s horrible that you were attacked on the street…

  4. “Lewdness and racial intermingling”…I love it!!!

  5. Gracia Michelle

    Ugh, men can be so repulsive at times… :/

    Anyway about the dancing: Tonya I think the other side you point out is more about laws for closing times, rather than whether or not it should be allowed to dance somewhere. After all, there can be no dancing and still a lot of noise for the neighbourhood, while there can be a place with or without dancing that causes no inconvenience at all if it closes at a time when people want to be sleeping.
    The law makes me think of capoeira though: the way the slaves were not allowed to fight so they masked it as dancing… Maybe people in NY can mask their dancing as fighting now? 😀

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