A Ban on Dancing? These Absurd, Antiquated Laws Need to Go


This article is part of a series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

A few weeks ago, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio finally gave his support to efforts aimed at repealing an absurd anti-dancing law which has been in the books for over 90 years.

The Prohibition-era law prohibits groups of three or more people from dancing in “any room, place or space in the city” where there is “musical entertainment, singing, dancing or other forms of amusement.” Exceptions to this ban are given to establishments that obtain expensive city-issued licenses and meet certain requirements. However, because of the difficulty and burden involved in meeting the requirements, fewer than 100 of the city’s 26,000 bars and restaurants currently hold the license.

Therefore, it is technically illegal to dance almost anywhere in the City that Never Sleeps!

This is exactly the type of nonsensical law that Helen Krieble talks about in her Liberty Minute entitled “Clean Up the Books”:

I love to learn about antiquated laws that are still in the books, sometimes quaint and often downright funny. You can be fined in Kentucky if you don’t bathe at least once a year, or in South Dakota if you fall asleep in a cheese factory. In New York, you cannot wear slippers after 10 PM and in Vermont, you can’t tie your giraffe to a telephone pole.

Such silly rules never made good sense and they’re certainly not appropriate for government today. Had they looked through the lens of liberty at the time, citizens would have recognized that such trivial rules were an affront to freedom even when they were first adopted. In every state and community the law books need to be reviewed and cleaned up often and such old and dusty rules should be swept out.

Of course, laws like these are rarely enforced, but the fact that they even exist shows that the government has certainly overstepped its boundaries by passing such petty prohibitions which provide no benefit at the expense of curtailing freedom. Demands that citizens take off their slippers at night, bathe regularly, and not dance in certain bars may seem to be harmless, but nonetheless, they are minor forms of dictatorship.

Americans have become so accustomed to relying on the government for fulfilling everyone’s needs and desires that they have come to view the government as a sort of parent responsible for not only providing for them, but also micromanaging their daily lives. Therefore, absurd laws like these ones are often accepted for years, or in New York City’s case for nearly a century, before anything is done to repeal them.

As Krieble would say, it is high time that these “dusty rules should be swept out.” Hopefully New York City’s government will follow through with their word to repeal the law and actually let the people dance legally for the first time since 1926!

Terry Schilling

Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.

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