New York is a nightlife-obsessed city that likes to think of itself as a progressive, multicultural place, but its history is, of course, a little more complicated. In 1926, the city enacted the Cabaret Law, which prohibits any and all dancing in businesses without a Cabaret License. It was passed with other racist regulations, including a ban on saxophones and other instruments perceived as “black” in unlicensed venues, and the New York City Cabaret Card program, a license for performers that ended in 1967. But it’s the only one that is still on the books today.
In reality, the law was created so the city could bear down on African-American jazz clubs, and for some reason, it’s surprisingly still on record and selectively enforced. (Today, only 118 of New York’s 25,000 bars and restaurants have Cabaret Licenses.) This racially tinged history is why a group calling itself the Dance Liberation Network, together with the NYC Artist Coalition, has launched a petition to get the New York City Council to repeal the law. Calling it out for its “racist original intention,” the petitioners argue that the law doesn’t belong in New York, and repealing it would be taking “one more step towards becoming the progressive cultural capital all New Yorkers can believe in.”