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Why Is Dancing Banned in Many New York City Venues?

New York City still enforces its 1926 Cabaret Law, requiring establishments that sell food and/or drinks to have a license before they can allow dancing on the premises. Specifically, the law prohibits "musical entertainment, singing, dancing or other form(s) of amusement" without a license. Many believe that the law was originally written to control predominantly African-American jazz clubs in Harlem and curtail the "mixing" of different races. In the 1990s, there were claims that Mayor Rudy Giuliani used the law to fine or shut down some of the smaller Latin clubs operating above 59th Street.

It's the Cabaret Law, old chum:

  • In 2017, New York City Council member Rafael Espinal introduced a bill calling for a full repeal of the Prohibition-era regulation, which has been unsuccessfully challenged several times in federal court.

  • Critics argue that the license is expensive and difficult to obtain, saying that enforcement is arbitrary. Proponents insist that the law minimizes noise complaints.

  • Applicants for a cabaret license must be fingerprinted, provide extensive financial records, and meet specific criteria regarding zoning, security, fire protection, and other building compliance issues.

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