How You Can Help End N.Y.C.’s Racist No-Dancing Law

“Repealing a law like this under Trump sounds fucking awesome.”

May 10, 2017
How You Can Help End N.Y.C.’s Racist No-Dancing Law

One of the best things about New York City is its nightlife — legendary tales of which have snaked around the world for decades, drawing generation after generation of bright young talent to the city. One of the least-known facts about N.Y.C. is that dancing is virtually illegal here.

Thanks to a 1926 law called the New York City Cabaret Law, dancing is banned in all establishments that don't have a Cabaret License. The origins of the law are deeply racist — it was devised to target black jazz clubs — and over the years it has been selectively enforced to oppress black, brown, and LGBTQ+ communities by denying them the right to free and joyful expression.

What's more, the Cabaret License is prohibitively expensive and almost impossible to get (only 0.01% of bars and restaurants across the city have one), which means venues owned and frequented by marginalized groups are often most at risk of being threatened with closure — for dancing.

While there have been a number of attempts to repeal the law over the years, it's still in use — and that has to end. Back in March, a new organization called Dance Liberation Network launched a campaign called Let NYC Dance to squash the racist law once and for all.

"Trump's inauguration really triggered it," says Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, one of the co-founders of Dance Liberation Network, who also runs the booking agency and collective DISCWOMAN. "It was that week when we started talking about it actually. We decided that now is the time to repeal this law."

Decaiza Hutchinson and her Dance Liberation Network co-founders are in conversation with New York City council members to help draft a repeal bill — but they need as much public support they can get. One very easy way to show that support is to sign this petition.

Ahead of a massive Let NYC Dance party organized by Boiler Room and Dance Liberation Network this Thursday night (that's the flyer above), I met up with Decaiza Hutchinson and two of her fellow co-founders, John Barclay and Adam Snead, to find out FADER readers can help join in the fight.

How You Can Help End N.Y.C.’s Racist No-Dancing Law Dance Liberation Network's John Barclay, Nikki Brown, Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, and Adam Snead   Photo by Tim Craig

How is the New York City Cabaret Law enforced?

JOHN BARCLAY: It's a tool that can be used against any [venue] regardless of the reason you have an issue with them. If I'm a NYPD officer and you're a bar that's loud [and] we want an easy way to shut you down, we come in there and write a Cabaret ticket. Or we can use it because you're a black bar in a white neighborhood, or a gay bar — those are things that historically have happened.

Why should I get involved?

ADAM SNEAD: I got involved because I really dislike the current political realm that we're in. It was a wake up call when Trump got elected and all these liberties that we take for granted, [including] a very simple thing like dancing, are under constant threat. It's not even just a threat to freedom, it's a threat to business, a threat to livelihood — and it's a threat to me just enjoying myself. I moved to New York because it was the cultural center of the U.S. To have our way of life threatened for something that's so archaic and racist [is] dumb.

FRANKIE DECAIZA HUTCHINSON: Do you care about fighting racism? Repealing a law like this under Trump sounds fucking awesome.

So what can I do to help?

FRANKIE DECAIZA HUTCHINSON: We strongly encourage people to share everything that we post to generate more awareness around the subject. Arm yourself with knowledge and speak about it to whoever is in your circle. Call your local council members to put pressure on repealing this law. And most importantly, sign the petition.

How You Can Help End N.Y.C.’s Racist No-Dancing Law