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NYC’s arcane dancing ban has been repealed

Written by
Clayton Guse

New York is one of the funkiest cities on the planet. It's a place where merry revelers of the night can twinkle their toes until the crack of dawn; where people of all walks of life can set themselves free through the pure power of dance. But for more than 90 years, it’s been illegal for public clubs in the city to permit dancing without a special cabaret license.

That's about to change.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved a measure to repeal a requirement in NYC’s administrative code that requires public dance halls, cabarets and catering establishments to obtain a license (better known as the Cabaret Law). The initiative was pushed through by Councilman Raphael Espinal, the same lawmaker who spearheaded the effort to establish an official Office of Nightlife for the city earlier this year.

“Today NYC will right a historical wrong,” Espinal said in a statement. “For almost a century, the cabaret law has targeted specific groups, kept businesses and performers in fear, and stifled the expression of NYC’s vital culture.”

The arcane license requirement is rarely enforced—only 104 businesses in the five boroughs have one—but it was leveraged by Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration to crack down on the club scene in the '90s and in recent years has led to just a handful of citations annually. It was originally passed in 1926 as a way to crack down on speakeasies during prohibition but was later enforced at jazz clubs across town in a manner that disproportionately targeted black musicians.

The repeal still needs to get a sign off by Mayor Bill de Blasio (which is pretty much a guarantee), at which point it would take 120 days to go into effect.

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