Thursday, August 04, 2005


July 30, 2005

Paul Chevigny, plaintiffs lawyer, 212.998.6249,
Eric Demby, Legalize Dancing NYC, 917.579.7435
Andy Gensler, Legalize Dancing NYC, 917.686.5224
Adam Shore, Legalize Dancing NYC, 917.513.3452


WKCR DJ/jazz historian Phil Schaap, New York City Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins, "Mad Hot Ballroom" instructor Yvonne Marceau, "Footloose" choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett, others support landmark case to overturnProhibition-era statute as unconstitutional.

Four dancers ‹ Byron Cox, Ian Dutton, John Festa, and Meredith Stead and a social-dance organization, the Gotham West Coast Swing Club, filed suit June 23, 2005, in New York State Supreme Court, calling for the immediate repeal of the Cabaret Laws on the grounds that they restrict the state¹s guarantee of freedom of expression by legislating and limiting the act of social dancing at eating and drinking establishments.

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by a team of lawyers that includes NYU law professor Paul Chevigny and former New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Norman Siegel. The next court date in the case is September 2, when the city will offer its initial response to the suit. On October 18, the plaintiffs will file their response. The judge is Hon.Michael Stallman.

Prominent members from across New York¹s dance community are supporting the suit, demonstrating the Cabaret Laws¹ broad negative impact on dancing of every kind, and on dancing as a vital cultural influence. Supporters who filed affidavits for the plaintiffs include: Phil Schaap, WKCR FM on-air DJ and renowned jazz historian; Peter Martins, New York City Ballet Master in Chief; Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Footloose (the film) and Alvin Ailey choreographer; and Yvonne Marceau, who teaches ballroom dancing at the Juilliard School and the American School of Ballet, and whose New York City grade-school dance classes are the basis for the hit documentary film Mad Hot Ballroom.

Additional affidavits were submitted by two musicologists, a music journalist and singer/percussionist from El Barrio, a DJ and former owner of the Plant Bar on the Lower East Side (which suffered thousands of dollars in Cabaret Law fines), and a dance-studio owner who claims New York City has become virtually devoid of venues for social dancing due to the stifling
atmosphere of the Cabaret Laws.

Professor Chevigny's involvement in the case is significant, as he is attempting to complete the total abolition of the Cabaret Laws he began in 1986, when he won a State Supreme Court case on behalf of the Musicians Union which overturned a portion of the laws requiring musicians to obtain a license when performing live. Chevigny¹s history of the laws, Gigs: Jazz And The Cabaret Laws In New York City, documented the dubious foundations of the laws in 1926, when Jimmie Walker¹s Tammany Hall cracked down on rampant vice in segregated Prohibition-era New York. Although he doesn't dance as often as he used to, Chevigny views overturning the dancing portion of the laws as unfinished business.


The suit marks the latest phase in the effort to reform the Cabaret Laws. Beginning with public protests during the Giuliani administration, including the Dance Liberation Front's hokey-pokey around City Hall and the Million Mambo March to Tompkins Square Park in the 1990s, a grassroots movement evolved into an organization called Legalize Dancing NYC. LDNYC increased public awareness of the authoritarian enforcement of the Cabaret Laws ‹including a cover story in the Village Voice and national coverage in The New York Times, Spin, and Rolling Stone ‹ while working with the City Council and the Dept. of Consumer Affairs to remove dancing from New York City's law books.

In 2003, the city proposed a new "Nightlife License" that, although imperfect, would have legalized dancing while imposing new restrictions on bars and clubs. Although the proposal was eventually withdrawn, Mayor Bloomberg and his administration appeared to support the idea that legislating dancing is ridiculous.

On the record:

Mayor Bloomberg told The New York Times on February 7, 2004: "Now I don't think in this day and age we need dancing police. Let's get serious. Who cares if you dance? If you want to have a bar that has dancing, God bless you."

In 2003, Gretchen Dykstra, who was then commissioner of the Dept. of Consumer Affairs, which administers the Cabaret Laws, said, "[Nightlife establishments] have to expend resources and energy telling people not to dance. They don't have any community problems, they don't have violations.But people can't shake their booties. And that strikes us as a little odd."

New York City Council Member Alan Gerson, who represents Lower Manhattan, told the Times in 2003, "The [Cabaret] laws are an indirect and inefficient way to regulate noise. At worst they are a ridiculous regulation of a legitimate form of expression. We are regulating the wrong thing."

Contact info:

To further discuss the court case, contact:
Professor Paul Chevigny, 212.998.6249,; or
Legalize Dancing NYC co-founders:
Eric Demby, 917.579.7435
Andy Gensler, 917.686.5224
Adam Shore, 917.513.3452

For additional information about the Cabaret Laws, go to


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