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For over 90 years, bars in the city have needed a “cabaret license” to legally allow dancing, a hoop only 97 establishments bothered to jump through.

Mike Pomranz
October 31, 2017

Tonight, New York City bars and restaurants are expected to be able to celebrate the end to a law that has plagued them for 90 years, and the fitting celebratory gesture is exactly what that law has been preventing people from doing all this time… dance.

As non-New Yorkers and New Yorkers alike have often been astonished to learn, dancing—even the impromptu and casual kind—has been illegal at the vast majority of New York City establishments since 1926. That year, in the middle of the Prohibition era, the city passed its Cabaret Law which, among other restrictions, made dancing illegal anywhere without a cabaret license. Even in modern day, obtaining a cabaret license is such a hassle and so pricey that, according to the New York Times, only 97 of New York’s approximately 25,000 bars and restaurants currently have one.

Of course, as anyone who has ever danced at a bar in NYC and not seen the place shut down can attest to, this difficult to enforce law was rarely a serious issue. However, the fact that it was still even on the books meant that pretty much anywhere with music—be it a band or even just a iPhone – lived in constant fear of breaking the law just because a patron felt like a quick boogie.

But a vote from the New York City Council scheduled for today is expected to finally put an end to this vestige of Prohibition. According to Rafael Espinal, the councilman from Brooklyn who introduced the bill to end the Cabaret Law, he has the support to kill it. “It’s over,” he told the Times.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio has also indicated that he’s ready to see the controversial regulations finally take a hike. “The mayor strongly supports repealing the law,” Ben Sarle, a spokesperson for the mayor, stated.

Assuming the repeal passes, establishments who would have previously needed a license will still face a couple of requirements, including “various security measures,” as the bill states, but the good news is that next time New Yorkers dance like nobody’s watching, that will be truer than ever.

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