Dance dance revolution

A protest troupe takes on the city's cabaret laws by boogying outdoors.

Photo: Jan Van Pak

What would it take to get you dancing for 24 hours outside in the dead of winter? For Julie Ziff Sint of Metropolis in Motion, a “dance-activist” group throwing a daylong boogie-down protest against Prohibition-era cabaret laws, it’s not passion or insanity. It’s anger. “We’re just a bunch of dancers,” says Ziff Sint, “who realized that the laws are stupid.”

The ensemble formed in May 2006 in response to a previous, failed attempt to overturn the 1926 laws, which forbid dancing in bars that don’t have a cabaret license. In 2005, NYU law professor Paul Chevigny and former NYCLU head Norman Siegel sued the city in State Supreme Court, arguing that the statutes infringe on freedom of expression (which, they claim, includes dancing). Unfortunately, the court didn’t see it that way. “In their eyes, dance is no more expressive than aerobics,” explains Ziff Sint. Undaunted, the plaintiffs filed an appeal in 2006; the Metropolis in Motion danceathon is meant to call attention to the pending outcome of the case.

The group mounted a similar if shorter event in July, attracting nearly 300 people to a two-hour dance party about a block from Mayor Bloomberg’s townhouse on the Upper East Side. “In the past, he’d said how regulating dance was ridiculous,” says Ziff Sint of the mayor, “but he hasn’t responded to us. Hopefully, he hasn’t changed his position.” This week’s event, beginning at noon on Friday 9 in Madison Square Park, could attract as many as 400 people (if it’s not too cold). But while it runs until noon the next day, it won’t be like the grueling test of endurance immortalized in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?: Participants will shake it in 90-minute segments, alternating the Lindy Hop, burlesque and Afro-Caribbean dancing. “The idea is to show that dance is expressive,” explains Ziff Sint. “We just think if your friend’s band is playing on the Lower East Side and you want to dance, you should be allowed to.”—Daniel Derouchie