Are we living in the town from Footloose?
NYC’s Cabaret Law sure as hell makes it seem that way. The statute, which deems dancing by “more than three persons” in “any space in the city to which the public may gain admission” illegal without a cabaret license, is a hot-button issue right now. But really, it always has been, starting with its passing in 1926 in order to close black clubs, then with its use in the ’90s as a measure by Rudy Giuliani to crack down on clubdom, and now, when it’s a curse for legit drinkeries and DIY venues alike. These days, only about 100 of the city’s 25,000 bars and restaurants even have the license, possibly because of the lengthy review process and seemingly random enforcement. Local party promoter Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, cofounder of the electrocollective Discwoman, has had enough; she helped create Dance Liberation Network (danceliberationnetwork.com), which focuses on showing how the law has always disproportionately affected minority communities and needs to get the boot.
NYC Council Member Rafael Espinal recently introduced a bill calling for a full repeal of the Cabaret Law, calling it “archaic, racist [and] homophobic.” What’s your take?
It has overwhelmingly targeted people of color and people of color establishments and was started as a way to disrupt black people’s lives by targeting Harlem jazz clubs. The fact that it’s all connected to something that is so racist is deeply problematic. For a city like New York—people come here for its robust culture—to be penalizing its artists in that way is really sad.
How does the law still disproportionately affect marginalized groups?
We did our own research on it and looked up venues that had received violations recently. It was mostly Latino clubs, Dominican spots and some black clubs. We found one white venue. How it’s enforced is completely arbitrary.
How will repealing it help NYC?
For small businesses, not having that hanging over your head and not living in fear would be a relief.
How did Dance Liberation Network begin?
John Barclay of Bossa Nova Civic Club [a Bushwick bar that has been cited for Cabaret Law violations] called me and a few others in the community to come together. It was right around the [presidential] inauguration weekend. We were all feeling so depleted and depressed. We needed to do something. Now that the bill has been introduced, we are planning to announce a call to action, to ask everyone to call their council members.