DULUTH — Duluth will have its time to dance soon, at least legally. Prohibition-era city code that restricted businesses from allowing dancing without a license is up for repeal, meaning that technically, there's been a whole lot of boogie-related law-breaking the last few decades. The City Council will vote Monday on a first reading of the amended ordinance.
The antiquated code from a 1959 version of the ordinance, with the original dating back to 1925, said businesses and other venues selling alcohol need a license to allow public dancing. State laws previously contained similar language but were repealed in 1989.
"It sat there and sat there pretty much unnoticed," said Council Member Roz Randorf, who introduced the amendment and calls it the "Footloose" ordinance, after the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon about a town that bans dancing and rock and roll.
In an effort to help businesses, City Clerk Chelsea Helmer said staff closely examined liquor-related regulations during the first pandemic shutdown in 2020, when restaurants and bars wanted to sell take-home liquor.
"This one jumped out to us from a practical standpoint," she said, and "triggered a conversation immediately."
She said there is no record of a dancing violation in recent history, although dancing establishments have been given licenses. The remaining sections of the ordinance still require licenses related to late-night entertainment and serving alcohol.
Public safety issues that might trigger a violation these days tend toward loud music and boisterous exits from bars and events where alcohol is served, Helmer said, noting Minnesota had some of the strictest dance hall laws in the nation. New York City had a similar night life dancing ban, the Cabaret Law, enacted in 1926. It wasn't repealed until 2017.
Duluth police were consulted before the ordinance was brought to the City Council.
Randorf isn't anticipating any councilors will oppose the repeal.
"It was a real tough one for us to decide," she joked.