The NYC Dance Parade Shows Why the Cabaret Law Must Die
All photos by Sam Clarke

The NYC Dance Parade Shows Why the Cabaret Law Must Die

We spoke to revelers at the massive outdoor event about efforts to repeal the city's controversial legislation.
May 23, 2017, 4:34pm

The Dance Parade, which celebrated its 11th anniversary last Saturday in Manhattan, is an opportunity for New Yorkers to come together and do what they do best—have fun. From Bolivian Caporales dancers bedazzled in sequins, to stilt-walking, scantily clad Brazilian Carnival dancers, to gaggles of kids in tap shoes, the breadth of New York's stunning diversity was on display throughout the drizzly spring afternoon.

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This year, along with the eccentric House Coalition float, members of the Dance Liberation Network and NYC Artist Coalition marched to support the repealing of New York's Cabaret Law, an antiquated ban on dancing in all establishments without a difficult-to-snag Cabaret License. The law, passed in 1926 with the aim of taming Harlem's jazz scene (it originally included an explicit ban on saxophones), is often used today as a convenient way for police to shut down any venue they disapprove of. Since only a tiny fraction of the city's dance clubs, bars, and venues have a Cabaret License, most dance spaces are currently operating in legally murky territory.

If the city needs more motivation to overturn what activists call a "dance ban", they should look no further than this ecstatic parade. If it wasn't clear already, it sure is now: New Yorkers of all stripes love to dance. We asked a few of the parade's many participants and spectators why they dance, and what they think about the Cabaret Law.

1. Phoebe Berg

Crew: Batalá New York, a female Afro-Brazilian samba and reggae band

Neighborhood: Manhattan

THUMP: What's the best thing about dancing?
Berg: We are one of the few Batala chapters that is all women. I love drumming and dancing. It's the love of my life. It's everything. Music is therapeutic. It's good for the community."

2. Beto Cravioto

Crew: Dance Liberation Network, a New York City artist coalition campaigning for the repeal of the Cabaret Law

Neighborhood: Queens

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What do you think of the cabaret law?
Cravioto: The Cabaret Law is a little silly. We should all be allowed to dance. It's an old fashioned law. As times have changed, I don't understand why it's still going on. The police use it to their advantage to be petty and shut down places when they need to. Dancing is companionship.

3. Tatenda Ngwaru (left) and Carrie-Anne Murphy (right)

Crew: Sundae Fantastique Show, a monthly musical talk show and activist rally

Neighborhood: Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively

What do you think of the cabaret law?
Ngwaru: I think [the Cabaret Law] is ridiculous. Who would want to stop people from dancing? I was in Harlem at a hookah bar, they said you can't get up and dance, it's against the law.

Why do you dance?
Murphy : Dancing is the purest form of expression outside sex.

4. Kenton DeAngeli (left) and Kelly Knapp (right)

Crew: Sundae Fantastique Show

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

Why do you dance?
DeAngeli: Dancing is a really great way for cultures that aren't recognized in the national media to form communities—and have fun.

5. Stephen Barnes, Dance Liberation Network

Crew: Dance Liberation Network

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

What do you think of the cabaret law?
Knapp: We all know the Cabaret Law is racist. There's more important problems with race that are being addressed right now, but I feel like this is a small thing we actually could make an impact on.

6. Harry Gaskin

Crew: Energy in the Middle, a roller skate dance team

Neighborhood: Long Island

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Why do you dance?
Energy in the Middle is a roller skating dance team. We create routines and videos and movies and do community events all over the country. I love it. It keeps me healthy and fit. You can't get no better addiction than dancing and skating. There's no side effects."

7. Vino Vinehaus

Crew: House Coalition, an organization centered around participation in the Dance Parade, known for its elaborate floats

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

Why do you dance?
One day I was walking down the street four years ago and the parade was about to start. I decided to join them. It's good for the health. We need exercise. It's the only exercise I can do. I cannot run, I cannot jog, but I can jump around.

8. Christina Smith

Crew: House Coalition

Neighborhood: Brooklyn

Why do you dance?
My dad Chris Smith is DJing. I've been doing this since I was born. House music is free. There are no constraints to it. You can do whatever you want, however you want. Everybody appreciates it. It's so much love. Nobody is judging, everybody is just here to have a good time."

Indigo Nai, Kostume Kult, Manhattan

Crew: Kostume Kult, a costume and street-theater club

Neighborhood: Manhattan

Why do you dance?
There are two types of people in the world: the ones who dance and the ones who don't. And have you seen the look on the faces of the ones who don't?