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NYC Mayor Repeals 1920s Ban on Dancing in Bars

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law Monday repealing the “Footloose”-esque Cabaret Law, a Prohibition-era mandate that banned dancing in New York City bars that didn’t hold a special license.

BROOKLYN (CN) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law Monday repealing the “Footloose”-esque Cabaret Law, a Prohibition-era mandate that banned dancing in New York City bars that didn’t hold a special license.

“It’s 2017, and this law just didn’t make sense. Nightlife is part of the New York melting pot that brings people together,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We want to be a city where people can work hard, and enjoy their city’s nightlife without arcane bans on dancing.”

The mayor signed the repeal bill Monday night at Elsewhere, a Bushwick music venue and art space.

The 1926 Cabaret Law was voted down by the City Council at the end of October, about five months after 33-year-old Democratic councilman Rafael Espinal introduced legislation to repeal it.

Just over 100 of New York’s 25,000 bars and restaurants hold a cabaret license because they are expensive and require extensive paperwork. And one argument for repeal of the Cabaret Law was that people were dancing anyway -- just in unregulated spaces, like some in the Bushwick warehouse scene.

The repeal of the law leaves certain safety measures in place, such as a requirement for security cameras at nightlife establishments.

Councilman Espinal told Gothamist in late October that the law was enforced inconsistently and often targeted people of color and the LGBTQ community. It is believed it was initially enacted in part to discourage interracial mingling at Harlem jazz clubs.

Former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani famously enforced the law as part of his controversial “Quality of Life” campaign in the 1990s.

“Artist, musicians, businesses owners, workers, and everyday New Yorkers looking to let loose will no longer have to fear the dance police will shut down their favorite venues,” Espinal said.

The New York City Council is overwhelmingly Democratic, with just three Republicans represented in 51 districts, according to its website.

Eric Ulrich, a Republican who represents the 32nd District in Queens, signed on to the repeal bill. His office declined to comment, as did Staten Island’s Joseph Borelli of the 51st District. Steven Matteo, of the 50th District, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither Borelli nor Matteo, both of whom are Republicans, sponsored the repeal.

Not everyone was for the repeal -- but not necessarily because they’re against dancing.

“Just so everyone is clear, this isn't about repealing racist legislation,” according to an Oct. 31 comment from user KT on the East Village EV Grieve blog, the same day council members approved the repeal. “This is to make it easier for loud late night clubs to open in residential neighborhoods i.e. our East Village nabe.”

Another anonymous user wrote, “The mayor and city council has sold what little quality of life we have left to the highest bidder once again. The glittering lights of Broadway will be on your doorstep and the city will rake in taxes at the expense of your sanity.”

City noise laws still remain in place.

Let NYC Dance, an organization that pushed for repeal of the Cabaret Law, did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

According to the New York Post, bar owners’ contributions accounted for $10,000, or about 9 percent, of Espinal’s re-election campaign funds. A spokeswoman denied there had been any lobbying.

Espinal also led a proposal for a position colloquially being called the “Night Mayor,” who would report to the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

The Cabaret Law repeal does not sweep the whole city -- only areas that fell under the initial law. The New York City Office of Nightlife will tackle the zoning laws in parts of the city not covered by the repeal.

That office is still in the final stages of the hiring process but expects to name a “Night Mayor” by the end of the year.

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