The New York City Cabaret (No Dancing) Law is an actively-enforced regulation that prohibits all forms of dancing in New York City establishments that do not possess a Cabaret License.
The Cabaret Law was originally enacted in 1926, during Prohibition, with the intention of giving the city broad authority to crack down on African American jazz clubs. The law was bundled with a multitude of racist regulations which included the banning of saxophones (and other so-called “black” instruments) in unlicensed venues; the Three Musician Rule; and the New York City Cabaret Card program. These additional cabaret regulations have since been repealed (or found unconstitutional) due to their racist and authoritarian implications. Yet, for some reason, the core Cabaret Law still remains on the books, even with this shameful and racist original intention.
In addition to its troubling past, the Cabaret Law today effectively creates a city-wide ban on dancing as Cabaret Licenses are incredibly scarce and nearly impossible to obtain. As of 2016, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs reported that of NYC’s more than 25,000 bars and restaurants, only 118 had Cabaret Licenses. This means that if you have ever danced in a NYC bar or restaurant, chances are that you were doing it illegally. We believe the Cabaret Law criminalizes the act of dancing without providing meaningful additional safety or quality of life measures. All NYC bars and restaurants are already held to a multitude of noise, safety and fire codes which ensure that their establishments are safe for patrons and respectful of their neighbors.
We are asking the New York City Council to repeal the Cabaret Law and lift this ban on dancing. It’s hard to believe that our city government has a law on the books banning an act of expression as basic and universal as dancing–it sounds like the behavior of a repressive regime and certainly has no place in a city as tolerant, diverse, and respectful of human expression as ours is. This law doesn’t belong in our city and we are asking our government to repeal it immediately. Let’s take one more step towards becoming the progressive cultural capital all New Yorkers can believe in.