Vice Squad
Sunday, May 20, 2007
NYC Dance Parade

A protest in New York City yesterday took the unusual form of a dance parade. The target of the protest is rules from the 1920s that require special cabaret licenses for establishments that serve food or drink, if dancing also is to take place there. The licensing regulations have been challenged, but were upheld in an appeals court decision two weeks ago. And so the dance parade.

Cabarets were major parts of the New York City social scene before World War I. But times changed, as chronicled in The Night Club Era, a 1933 book (reissued in 1999) by Stanley Walker:
The cabaret, during the war and immediately afterward, found the going tough. It was being smirched by a cheaper and less leisurely life, harried by the dance halls and chevvied by all manner of reformers, vice crusaders, licensing regulations and the massed forces of virtue [page 77].
("Chevvied" means, roughly, "harassed," it seems.) Of course, these disreputable pre-World War I cabarets that provoked the good people of the land were soon replaced, during Prohibition, with something perhaps even less to their liking; Walker again, from page 77:
How innocent the old-time cabarets appear, viewed after the years of the hot night clubs! And yet these places had to contend with enemies almost as persistently annoying as prohibition agents and shakedown artists. There was a serious attack in 1915, when a committee... gathered much fearsome data against the cabaret. The object of this committee was not so much to abolish dancing as to divorce it from restaurants, and divorce both dancing and eating from drinking. It was dangerous, it appeared, to eat, drink and dance in the same place.
And the legal divorce continues, unless a marriage license between food and dance is acquired.

For background information on the recent case and the enforcement of the cabaret license law, see here (lawsuit filed) and here (Goths have difficulty dancing in NYC).

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