Let’s talk about dance! And how we really feel about it

The relationship between choreography, movement arts and law is a tricky one owing to the difficulties faced in determining the need and subsequently, the scope of regulation the law imposes on dancing and dancers. Here are three interesting stories from Japan, India and the UK that highlight contemporary legal perspectives on dance.

So what’s this I hear about a ban on dancing in Japan?

In April, 2012 club owner, Masatoshi Kanemitsu was arrested and kept in custody for a period of 22 days in Osaka, Japan. The grounds of his arrest – his apparent violation of an archaic law passed in 1948 that prohibited dancing on any premises where alcohol was being served. The law, which was passed following the end of World War II aimed at controlling prostitution at dance halls, extends to several kinds of establishments including dance clubs, night clubs, pachinko parlours and sex salons. The law, many claim, has been long forgotten and subsequently has received no amendments. Unfortunately, this implies that local police officials can still enforce it.

The tough stand of local police officials has forced many clubs to shut down and change their programming. Interestingly enough, the reinforcement of the ban has led many establishments to panic and increasingly request their customers to even refrain from swaying or moving to any music played on the premises.

This photo of a club in Osaka was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the flickr photo stream of Matthias Mueller.

This photo of a club in Osaka was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the flickr photo stream of Matthias Mueller.

The law does not provide a blanket ban – it is possible for a premises to permit dancing so long as it has the requisite license from the Government – a fact that most club owners in Japan have been unaware of. In addition, the license only allows the premises to stay open till 1 am as opposed to the all-nighter rule that applies to all other establishments. Finally, the law also states that in order to apply for a dancing license, it is necessary for the establishment to show the allotment of atleast 66 square metres of unobstructed floor space meant specifically for dancing.

If you thought the clubs had it bad, think again. Owing to the ambiguities in the law as well as the unreasonable enforcement of the rule, establishments like dance schools have also begun to feel pressured. Unsure of their legal status or the process of applying for the requisite accreditations and licensing, founders and teachers of dance schools across Japan are apparently finding it increasingly stressful to continue their work.

In response to all the confusion and the dire need for change in the law, Tokyo-based lawyer, Takahiro Saito started a movement ‘Let’s dance’ that brought together club owners, musicians, music journalists and other stakeholders. Organizing awareness camps and discussions, the group submitted a petition of signatures (like this one) to the Diet (Japanese Parliament) in 2013. As of last month, the Japanese Government began to re-evaluate the need of the archaic law and discuss the removal of the ban on dancing, as well as the need for licensing.

Do we have a similar ban on dancing in India?

Several statutes in India define entertainment and what kind of performances may be permitted in specific spaces and instances. Although some laws prohibit dancing in spaces where alcohol is served, these provisions have been re-examined thanks to a few recent cases. One important case is the 2006 Indian Supreme Court’s decision in State of Maharashtra & Another v. Indian hotel and restaurants association & Others, where the court re-examined certain provisions related to permitting dance as a form of entertainment in establishments serving alcohol. Without getting into great detail (as this will be dealt with in a different post to be published soon), the Supreme Court held that dancing as a form of entertainment shall be permitted in establishments serving alcohol.

Closer to home, High Court of Karnataka on July 10, 2014 struck down a provision under Rule-11(1) of the Karnataka Excise Licences (General Conditions) Rules, 1967, that prohibited “dance” as a kind of entertainment on the premises where sale of liquor is permitted (More on this soon).

Meanwhile, what’s that I heard about British competitive dancing?

Last week, the British Dance Council (BDC) met to decide on the definition of dance partnership – whether partnership would include or exclude same-sex couples. The BDC decided to discuss this issue following receiving complaints from some mixed- sex couples who claimed that they felt unfairly disadvantaged, especially in light of only-male couples who they felt, were physically stronger and agile.

Although the BDC has made it clear that it is against discrimination of all sorts, it has mentioned the need to ‘regulate the situation’.

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photo stream of Pedro Ribeiro Simões

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photo stream of Pedro Ribeiro Simões

What are the implications of all this to law and dance?

The above-mentioned three instances from three different countries point to the fact that there are still many misconceptions surrounding dance, choreography and movement arts. Whether it’s undoing negative socio-cultural associations between dancing, alcohol and anti-social behaviour, or making movement arts and dance more inclusive, we all have a long way to go before our laws reflect our aesthetic and artistic values. Having said that, initiatives like Japan’s ‘Let’s dance’ are an amazing way to bring people from different disciplines together, in an effort to better understand and address a larger, cultural problem.

Do you think we need more initiatives that bring art, artists, law and lawyers together? Do you know of any other projects that have explored the connection between law and dance? Why not leave us a comment and help us explore this topic further.

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