Volume 76, Number 10 | July 26 - August 1, 2006

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Dance activists discoing outside the mayor’s residence last Saturday.

Opponents of cabaret law boogie outside Bloomberg’s

By Jefferson Siegel

“If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution” is a saying attributed to the 20th-century activist and feminist Emma Goldman.

Last Saturday over 50 activists and terpsichoreans echoed a similar sentiment, promoting dancing in the city by kicking up their heels at an outdoor dance party a short distance from Mayor Bloomberg’s E. 79th St. home.

Organized by the group Metropolis in Motion, the event near Central Park was held to draw attention to what many consider the city’s restrictive cabaret law. The group claims that, out of almost 5,000 bars, restaurants and nightclubs holding liquor licenses, fewer than 300 are licensed cabarets where dancing is legal. Many in the crowd wore bright pink T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Dancing Is Not A Crime.”

Siena Mayers said she travelled from Augusta, Maine, to join in the unusual protest.

“I like to dance,” she offered as the reason for her long journey before jumping into the pulsating crowd. From teenagers to the elderly, from rappers to punks to rockers to ballroom twirlers, these movers and shakers moved their mostly sneakered feet to a variety of rhythms. Boom-box music got the party started, and as a curbside crowd gathered around the metal barricades, a trio of live drummers turned the beat around.

Three years ago, the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs proposed replacing the 1926 cabaret law with a new licensing scheme, claiming that noise, not dancing, was the problem that needed to be addressed. Critics of the cabaret law believe active enforcement was resurrected during the Guiliani administration to deal with quality-of-life issues of noise and street crowds.

Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and law professor Paul Chevigny filed a lawsuit against the city last year claiming the cabaret laws were “arbitrary and capricious” and deny dancers the due process of law. Earlier this year, Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman dismissed the suit. An appeal is planned.

Metropolis in Motion claims repeal of the cabaret law would be good for the restaurant and entertainment community by removing the fear of fines and closures. They also believe abolishing the law would not lead to increases in noise or street congestion, since other laws already address those issues.

As organizers lofted a spinning disco ball near the 79th St. Central Park transverse, attorney Siegel joined the “Saturday Afternoon Fever” with some judicious jitterbugging. He then mounted a go-go platform for some D.J.’ing.

“It is our basic human right...to dance,” he told the crowd. Then, encouraging the dancers to join in with him, he led them in chanting three times, “Dancing is not a crime!”

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