What’s In A Dance?

By Brendan James

Susan Shepard highlights a 2005 tax case up for appeal, centered on the whether a man’s strip club provides genuine “artistic performance”:

The origin of the case stems from a provision in New York’s tax code that exempts dramatic and musical performances from sales taxes. The Court ruled that the stage and private performances taking place inside of Nite Moves did not qualify as such. But when courts make a determination as to what is and is not art, they are not on the most solid ground. As the dissenting opinion read, “It does not matter if the dance was artistic or crude, boring or erotic. Under New York’s tax law, a dance is a dance.” After that defeat, [owner Stephen] Dick hired First Amendment expert Robert Corn-Revere, who has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their appeal.

She interviews anthropologist and dancer Judith Lynn Hanna, who testified in the case that stripping and lap dancing qualify as a “choreographed performance”:

A choreographed performance is a performance that has some plan. And it has some specific use of time, space, effort, and of body movement and posture. Just as a dancer on stage has a routine, whether she’s going to the mirror, whether she’s going to the pole, whether she’s changing flow over the performance, it usually very much depends on the dancer’s earlier background. Some people have had ballet, some have been in dance companies, some draw on moves they had as a cheerleader or social dancing, They watch television or they just watch the dancers who are already dancing and learn like most people learn, which is by watching or being coached.

So the issue was can you have improvisation? Well, of course. Even in a very choreographed ballet performance there can be interpretation by the specific dancer. Some people just think that you don’t dance when you are an exotic dancer or doing striptease, that all you do is get up and shake your booty.

Colbert covered the story here.