Bushwick’s Bossa Nova Civic Club is quiet. A lone DJ occupies the checkered dance floor. A painted “No Dancing” sign glows white against the back wall, and a gaggle of neighborhood locals take up residence at the bar, sipping IPAs and nodding to reserved electro tracks.
What most of them don’t know is that this is no ordinary Tuesday.
For nearly a century, the city’s tyrannical Cabaret Law forbade dancing in bars without proper licensing. In a metropolis with some 25,000 venues, barely 100 could host fully sanctioned social dancing. This meant a crackdown on modest hip-shaking. On full-on twerking. On the Hora, probably.
So yes, you have likely broken the law, you shimmying hoodlum.
Enacted in 1926, legislation was a paternalistic effort to patrol speakeasies. But over the course of the last hundred years, the law morphed into a veiled platform for not-so-subtle racism, a justification for exorbitant cover charges at venues with proper licensing, and a dated framework for a city that supposedly never sleeps.