A Deluge of Parades

Promoters, DJs, and dancers alike prepare for some much needed cabaret lawlessness

New Yorkers, used to being told they can't dance where they want to, will soon find themselves able to cavort a bit more freely. Alas, no, the cabaret law hasn't been repealed—incredibly, dancing is still illegal without a license. But at 1 p.m. on May 19, the city's first-ever Dance Parade will take over Broadway at 32nd Street and wind its way down to Washington Square Park. With more than 6,000 dancers signed up and top DJs such as Kool Herc, Danny Tenaglia, and John "Jellybean" Benitez participating, this hopefully annual event may soon rival Berlin's infamous Love Parade.

Greg Miller, the president of Dance Parade Inc., says this parade will differ from Berlin's in one key sense: It won't be centered around dance music, instead emphasizing dance as an art form, with representatives from Dance Manhattan, Sandra Cameron Dance Center, Djoniba Dance Center, Soho Dance, and Stepping Out Studios all participating. And they'll flip the concept of the city's cabaret-law enforcers on its head, hiring their own "dance police," who will issue citations (actually discount coupons to clubs and dance schools) to passersby for not dancing.

So far, Miller's got 20 floats signed up and 41 styles of dance represented, from ballet to breakdancing. "We are honoring these forms of dance that were birthed in New York City, such as the Lindy Hop, vogueing, and even salsa," says Miller, who was once a part of the activist group Metropolis in Motion, which is dedicated to eradicating the cabaret law. For him, the parade's point is twofold: to educate people about the cabaret law and the history of dance.

Larry Tee, esteemed mixer of highbrow and lowbrow
photo: Tricia Romano
Larry Tee, esteemed mixer of highbrow and lowbrow

Meanwhile, the case brought by Paul Chevigny and Norman Siegel against the city, which claims that the cabaret law is unconstitutional and infringes on freedom of speech, is in appeals—the most recent ruling by the State Supreme Court Appellate Division upheld the previous ruling that dancing is not a protected, constitutional form of expression. Tell that to the members of Swing 46, a swing-dancing club that was shut down for one year and received a $10,000 fine for illegal dancing. In fact, tell that to all New Yorkers, who now have only 148 licensed spaces to dance—down from 276 five years ago. In Manhattan, the number stands at a lowly 69 licensed venues, an appallingly low number for a city of our size and stature, a city that has banners all over town proclaiming it the nightlife capital of the world.

Dancing may still be a crime in most venues, but that's not stopping the unstoppable Larry Tee from hosting a dance festival in some of the few available licensed clubs. Dubbed the Dance Music Invasion, the event finds Tee joining forces with Kevin Graves and former Ultra liaison Lainie Copicotto to create a five-day festival to be held October 3 through 7. Tee, ever the salesman, is pitching the festival as the "Winter Music Conference meets Coachella; New York needs to get its act together and be the center of music, instead of letting Miami run off with it in some version of a drunken orgy of schmoozing," he says. New York, he notes, has lost its grip on dance music, but the festivals in other cities—like Miami's WMC and the Billboard Dance Music Summit, now held in Las Vegas—leave much to be desired.

Tee might be overselling, but he knows of what he speaks. The man behind the Electroclash Music Festival—and later, the Outsider Music Festival—has no fear. After running up a $40,000 debt to fund the electroclash festivals, he learned that persistence and well-placed hype pays off. Thanks to buzz from those events, his Berliniamsburg night took off soon thereafter and helped pay off his debt.

While Tee is reluctant to name names until the ink dries, he wants to showcase Top 20 and underground DJs alike at clubs around the city, with a wish list that includes venues as varied as Pacha, Studio B, Hiro Ballroom, and Cielo. He's envisioning bills that cross genres and subcultures, pairing mainstream house DJs like Erick Morillo with techno underdogs like Bookashade. "We're approaching all the clubs," he says. "If it's gonna be for everyone, it's going to have to be for everyone. We're mixing up highbrow and lowbrow."

He's also talking about launching a blog, dancemusicinvasion.com, to coincide with the festival—one that will combine all aspects of nightlife under one roof. Ideally, you can read about Lindsay Lohan's comings and goings, track club openings and closings, and check out the top singles of the week, all in one place. "A lot of dance-music websites are way too serious," says Tee, who describes the site as Perez Hilton meets Rhythmism meets Last Night's Party.

Coincidentally, the same week Tee's Dance Music Invasion kicks off, there's another big bash planned. This one's called NY Dance Party. Scheduled for October 6, it'll be headed up by two of dance music's legends—Cerrone and Nile Rodgers —as a means of celebrating 30 years of dance music. The event's website, nydanceparty.net, purports that NY Dance Party will feature the "largest dance floor ever created in New York" at the Trump Wollman Rink in Central Park. The event will double as a fundraiser for various AIDS organizations, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Lifebeat, and the We Are Family Foundation.

One more piece of dance news: Blackkat's annual MayDay! event, usually held at Tompkins Square Park, was denied permits this year; as the Blackkat mailing list explained, "The Parks Department makes a habit out of approving the permits for Mayday a few days before the event," though the forms are usually filed in January to give the bureaucrats plenty of time. Undaunted, the politically charged music and party promoters regrouped at Union Square Sunday, where Collin Strange, Atomic Babies, Sacha (of Flavorpill fame), and Jason Blackkat himself played. Thursday at 7 p.m., they're meeting up with Metropolis in Motion at Kabin, 92 Second Avenue, to hear from those who've been affected by the cabaret law. Meanwhile, we hear City Councilman Alan Gerson's office is drafting a proposal that would render the law moot for venues with a capacity of fewer than 200 people, but would bring stricter enforcement of noise, which would include using a device that physically limits the volume levels on a club's sound equipment.

All this pro-dance music and anti-cabaret law activity leads me to believe Larry Tee when he says, "Dance music finally has an opportunity. It's kind of hot. I sense something is changing here."

flylife@villagevoice.com

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