Dance Dance Evolution? Cabaret Law Could Waltz Into History

Tuesday night fever: Mayor de Blasio shows off his signature dance move, “The Smackdown,” at the Park Slope Armory after he won the Democratic nomination in 2013. Photo by Kathy Willens/Associated Press.

BY LAUREN GILL | Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the repeal of an archaic law that bans dancing in establishments that do not have a special, hard-to-get license as long as those clubs and bars enact certain basic security measures, a rep announced at a Thurs., Sept. 14 City Hall hearing on the statute.

“The de Blasio administration strongly supports repealing the current cabaret law,” said Lindsay Greene, a senior advisor for the Office of Housing and Economic Development. “There are better ways than the current law to create a strong and healthy nightlife economy.”

In June, Greene refused to say whether Hizzoner backed a bill by Councilmember Rafael Espinal, a Bushwick Democrat, that proposes abolishing the 1926 cabaret law, citing a pending lawsuit on its constitutionality. The pol introduced the measure that month, arguing the statute was put in place to target black jazz clubs and has been used as a way for police to discriminate against minority groups ever since.

But now de Blasio will sign legislation to scrap the old law, on the condition it is replaced with one that requires nightlife businesses maintain surveillance cameras and ensure security personnel is properly licensed and registered.

Attendees erupted in a vigorous bout of “jazz hands” — raising their hands and wiggling them rapidly — in approval following the announcement, because clapping is not allowed in Council chambers.

The Department of Consumer Affairs currently enforces the cabaret law, but the NYPD will be in charge of ensuring haunts are up to code under the new legislation. Espinal worried this change will give cops free reign to target clubs and bars since they can use camera checks as a way to gain entry, but Greene claimed police will only investigate businesses when there is reason for concern.

Dance advocates spoke following Greene’s testimony, including one woman with plenty of experience getting down who suggested the “dance police” might lighten up if they tried cutting a rug themselves.

“Maybe they’ll feel a little better if they start swinging and swaying themselves,” said Mercedes Ellington, the granddaughter of jazz legend Duke Ellington and the first black dancer in the revered June Taylor Dancers troupe.

The mayor, despite his gangly 6-foot-5 frame, is somewhat of a dance pioneer himself, most famously creating “The Smackdown” in 2013, choreography in which de Blasio licks his hand and bangs it on the ground.

But before the mayor can make busting the move legal for all, Espinal needs to amend the bill and then the Council has to vote on it, which is expected to happen in December.