NEW YORK — Shall we dance? In New York it depends on where we hear the music. Not in front of the jukebox in a bar, for instance.
A state judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to force the city to allow private, social dancing in restaurants, clubs and bars, where it is now banned. Bar owners have been known to pull the plug on a jukebox when customers start dancing to the tunes, fearing fines or suspension of their liquor license.
State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman found that the city's license requirements for cabarets — places that have food and drink and allow personal recreational dancing — are constitutional.
A group calling itself the Gotham West Coast Swing Club and several people said that because the city's cabaret law barred them from dancing with other people it unconstitutionally infringed on their right of free expression.
The plaintiffs also contended that the city's application of zoning laws was arbitrary and capricious and deprived them of due process. They said they should be allowed to dance in any bar or restaurant they wanted to.
The judge disagreed in Festa v. New York City Dept. of Public Affairs. He said dancing is not constitutionally protected expression and the city has the right to regulate circumstances under which eating and drinking places can let patrons dance.
But he suggested the city should consider amending the 80-year-old Prohibition-era cabaret law in light of current social norms.
"Surely the Big Apple is big enough to find a way to let people dance," he said.
City law department spokeswoman Kate Ahlers said the judge's ruling was "a confirmation of the city's efforts to protect residential communities from disruptions attributed to some cabarets."
Norman Siegel, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he was disappointed by the decision and was considering an appeal.
"We continue to believe that social dancing is expressive activity and should have state constitutional protection," he said. "We continue to believe the cabaret law is unconstitutional."
Places that legally allowed couples to dance numbered around 1,000 in the 1960s, but fewer than 300 exist now, the plaintiffs said.