Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dance if you want

Personally, I normally do so only at weddings, but I have no objection to others who wish to do so on more frequent occasions. Some observers, however, seem to think that I have some sort of vested interest in Lincoln’s ordinances that regulate public dances. I don’t. These ordinances date from the 1930’s, but have been tweaked from time to time—most recently in 1993.

This issue has become a matter on the public agenda lately, due to a campaign by a local club owner to expose the problems he sees with these laws. The rub seems to be the City’s differentiation of public dances from teen public dances. You can’t hold a public dance that overlaps the age groups of 14-18 with the age group of 19 and up, unless it’s a dance without alcohol service, in which case you can admit 18 year olds, or unless the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian.

One of our city council members sent me an email with a list of questions, one of which was this: “What is the intent of the rule and has it outlived it's time?” My response:

“I wasn't around in the 1930's but I suspect that public dances were occasions where there was a perception of heightened risk for such things as rumbles, unlawful gambling, illegal liquor; underage drinking; kissing, hand-holding and other forms of naughtiness--particularly between adult male ne'er-do-wells and impressionable young people. That is still probably the case. The inspection by [the] Building & Safety [Department] for exits, capacity, lighting, electrical, and other life-safety issues seems to me to be the best reason to require a permit for a public dance--there have been some famous disasters at public dances in our national history--Coconut Grove, the Kansas City Hyatt, and the Station in Warwick, RI, to name a few with particularly large loss of life.”

I’m guessing that the evidence of shenanigans at public dances dates back to the beginning of recorded history. I know what was going on at Teen Canteen in Lincoln when I was in ninth grade, which is pretty close to that time. I doubt it has changed much. Changing the age limits or just repealing the teen dance permit ordinance entirely would have little or no impact on the police department.

Does the thought of your 15 year old daughter grinding with a 24 year old man who’s been drinking bother you? Does it bother you any more or less than if he was a Pepsi-drinking 17 year old? Is it a matter for government to concern itself with? This is a public policy issue for our elected representatives to mull over; it doesn’t impact the police department or me personally, one way or another—because my daughter isn’t 15 any more.


ARRRRG!!!! said...

I'm all for outlawing dancing when there's work to be done.

Anonymous said...

What’s the name of that restaurant you like with all the goofy stuff on the walls and the mozzarella sticks?

Anonymous said...

Shenanigans. You know how those boys get when they are full of syrup. They get all antsy in the pantsy.

Anonymous said...

Just the thought of a 24 year old grinding on a teen makes me angry!
Though I hate the thought of government involvment, there are so many parents who are lazy, stupid, uninvolved, or think their children have the ability to make good choices all the time. We have to protect kids from their parents and themselves sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Chief writes: it doesn’t impact the police department or me personally, one way or another.

I hope to not spoil the morning coffee and snack (note:I did not say doughnut)
But your view is SOOOOO wrong.

Anonymous said...

You can dance if you want to. You can leave your friends behind. Because if your friends don't dance and if they don't dance; well they are no friends of mine.

Anonymous said...

could someone read all of Jim J's comments and put it in a brief summary for me?

Steffonic said...

It seems that a lot of people don't get that people don't really dance at The Bourbon and other venues in town.

I've been going to shows in this town for 20 years. I have never seen anyone bumping and grinding on the dance floor, much less a 24 year old male grinding on a teen girl.

Just because the older generations went out to dance doesn't mean that the younger generations have any interest in it. They just want a venue to go out and listen to music.

Times change, laws should be adjusted with them. Besides, even with it's original intention in mind the ordinance is ridiculously puritanical. Come on Lincoln, you've got a good thing going with the music venues you have here. Don't ruin it.

Anonymous said...

Any comment on the inconsistent application of the law? Is there some kind of halo over the Pershing Auditorium that makes its patrons less likely to dance with minors? At the very least, there should be a level playing field. The small clubs in this down are just trying to to make a living. Shouldn't they enjoy the same opportunities as the city-owned venues?

Tom Casady said...


I was hoping someone would take that bait.


If there isn't dancing, you don't need a dance permit. If you have live music at a venue with a liquor license, the only difficulty Lincoln's ordinances create for you is in 5.01.120 which prohibits kids 15 and younger from being in your business after 9:00 PM unless accompanied by an adult.

I'm not quite sure what the issue is: do the live-music bars in Lincoln want to be able to keep 15 year olds and younger there until a later hour that 9:00 PM?

Anonymous said...

Some of you people seem to think that this about dancing. It is about the dancing laws transferring themselves to live music venues. The purpose of the Bourbon Theatre is not to be an all ages dance club but a place where people can come and view their favorite bands. It's no different than when adults and kids mingle to see a concert at Pershing.

Tom Casady said...

1:58 -

Inconsistent application? No, the dance permit ordinances specifically exempt public dances on public property approved by the governing authority. I'm not sure why, but maybe because there was an inherent trust that the City or the school wouldn't be likely to make basic safety mistakes, like chaining the exit door, or failing to light the exits.

I'm all for live music venues. Wish we had more of them. Good luck to them all.

Mark M said...


When you listen to your favorite band do you stand there like a frozen statue? Or do you sway, nod your head, tap your feet; things of that nature to the sound of your favorite song like most other people.

I respect your opinion and the work you do for Lincoln but ultimately I don't see how a music venue can ultimately stop everyone from dancing. Most shows that I have been to will have 90% standing around and maybe 10% who are close to the stage enjoying themselves. But the focus of the show is the band themselves, not the dancing.

That is why they are wanting to challenge this law to get rid of the dancing stipulation. It's not to allow 15 and under into the show like the shock value you are trying to imply, but rather the 17-18 years olds who very well could be college freshman. They could attend shows with their 19-20 year old friends also without being forced to have to leave by 9pm.

Omaha has already passed this and has experienced very few problems with it. The model is already there to view the consequences and there appears to be little to none at all. Why do you think that Lincoln would somehow have results that differ from that. Are Lincolnites just that much more likely to engage in inappropriate behavior?

Mark M said...

I agree Tom we need more live music venues. But with Omaha's proximity and their openess to all ages shows with dancing, it really hurts the quality of national up and coming bands that these venues are able to pursue. If you are going to play in Nebraska, why would you play in Lincoln, when you can go to Omaha and have a bigger and wider audience to perform to. The Bourbon and other venues are trying to close that distinction between the two cities.

Mark M said...

Sorry my last comment...maybe :). I don't understand the logic in the idea that dance permits deal with fire safety and occupancy issues. What exactly is the difference 400 people standing in a venue or 400 people dancing in a venue. Eitherway you are going to have a life safety issue if someone happens to chain up an exit.

If a venue has it's CO for a certain amount of people and they don't exceed it, why would dancing or standing make any sort of difference in life safety.

Tom Casady said...

If it's NOT a public dance, 16, 17 and 18 year olds can be there all night--there is no time limit. The 9:00 PM limitation for licensed liquor establishments only applies to those 15 and under who are not accompanied by an adult. If it IS a public dance, a dance permit is required, and admission must be limited to people 19 and over, or (if no alcohol is served) 18 and over.

What I'm picking up from this thread is some confusion between the liquor laws and the dance permit ordinances, and some questions (or maybe disagreement) on when a live music performance becomes a public dance. The issue I think I am hearing, but no one is stating clearly, seems to be "how does one define 'dance?' ". Good luck writing a definition. A dictionary definition like "rhythmic movement to music" wouldn't work, would it? Maybe the problem--if there is one--could be solved by dropping the minimum age for a public dance.

At any rate, it really isn't anything I'm particularly concerned with, and I have no reason to weigh in on the debate. I'm not particularly concerned if the City Council would decide to tweak the age again--as they did in 1993. My personal opinion is that if the Council thinks there is a good reason to maintain separate teen and adult dance permits, 18 makes some sense--forget the distinction between alcohol or not--because that age roughly delineates high school from college-aged and adult. I know there are some high school seniors who are 18 before the school year begins, and a very small number of 17 year olds who are already in college--but there aren't very many in the latter category.

Makes no real difference to the chief of police, though.

I do, however, have an interest in preventing the kinds of tragedies-waiting-to-happen that I've seen on a few occasions when someone decides to have a public event in a place with inadequate exits, broken staircases, overloaded electrical circuits, bare wires outside the junction box, pyrotechnics, inadequate exits, no security, chained exit doors, no emergency lighting, and so forth.

While it's a risk to have any event in a venue without a Certificate of Occupancy, it is obviously greater at night, in the dark, and when people have been drinking. The places I have commonly seen this occur are at lightly-organized and non-permitted events. The risk is far less at a place that has already been inspected and received it's CO. That's one of the reasons I think it would be wise to continue to retain dance permits, regardless of what the allowable minimum age would be. Age is a different issue.

Jeremy Buckley said...

I'll have to post this in a few comments since my response was too long.

Chief Casady and others, Jeremy Buckley here from the Bourbon Theatre. I am the event coordinator for the venue, not the owner.

I wanted to put in my two cents so you guys can understand where we're trying to come from on this ordeal. I agree with the person that most people that go to concerts these days go to listen and witness a live music performance rather than go for the dancing. If there is dancing, by and large the people that dance don't dance with each other, rather just to the music in a space reserved for themselves.

Part of the confusion comes from not knowing how dancing is defined. We've been told it's the shuffling of feet. That's still ambiguous but can be difficult to patrol. If we knew that people couldn't "bump and grind" dance" I'm sure our security could handle telling people that is not allowed. But if the shuffling of feet is the definition, it includes a lot of movement that is in no way sexual. In regards to the query of if we want people younger than 16 to be able to attend shows unaccompanied by an adult after 9 p.m.... we have no interest in that.

For the most part we wouldn't want people younger than 18 to be unaccompanied on site. It adds security risks and costs for our venue to staff accordingly. We would like for first year college students to be able to attend concerts in Lincoln after 9 p.m. I think it would make more sense for them to be in a monitored, secure space than at a house party where minors drink and violence often happens (as this blog pointed out some time back where people are robbed or assaulted sexually or violently).

Jeremy Buckley said...

part 2:

From a business point of view the problem comes from trying to secure acts to come to our venue. If a local promoter wants to bring a national act to town A where the age restriction is 19+ or town B where people of all ages can attend (with restrictions for minors) the promoter is more likely to choose town B, for sake of potential revenue. As a good chunk of our revenue comes from alcohol sales, people might ask why not letting minors in affects our business and it's as simple as that scenario. If we don't get the show at all we lose revenue from people who might come and enjoy a few adult beverages.

Chief Casady makes a comment about an " trust that the City or the school wouldn't be likely to make basic safety mistakes, like chaining the exit door, or failing to light the exits." The police that patrol downtown come into our building quite often to take a look around and make sure everything is kosher. I think in the nine months we've been open I think it's safe to say we've stayed away from most of the problems that plagued the businesses that existed in this space in the past few years. We've had no fights, we have worked with the police force to penalize people who aren't of age that enter our establishment inebriated or try and drink on the premises.

Jeremy Buckley said...

Part 3:

I've been to concerts at the Pershing and have witnessed first hand what kinds of enforcement and security have been on hand at those shows. Stone Temple Pilots, a grunge band from the 90s that still has radio hits from time to time, came through in the fall of last year. In the concert room it was rare to see any security, the only people I witnessed looking over the area were two elderly ladies that had checked my ticket at the door earlier. I hardly think they would have been able to handle a fight should one have occurred.

I saw many people smoking cigarettes and illegal substances without recourse. All the while the show was all ages and anyone of age could drink alcoholic beverages. I'm guessing that if the police had made an appearance and noticed any illegal activities occurring that the individual would've been ticketed, but not the business itself, as ours would be should the same activities be taking place in our facility.

I'm getting off tangent a bit, so let me finish (for now, at least) by bringing up three main points:

1) We're interested in the law being 18+ with a dance permit so that we can invest in a dance permit and allow college freshmen to attend shows rather than avoid the dance permit and be nervous about the interpretation of what "dancing" is. There are thousands of college students in Lincoln that should have the ability to attend local concerts where responsible forms of dancing occur. Granted there are some high school students that are already 18 but there isn't much we can do about that.

2) It affects our business even though we don't directly profit from minors being in our venue very much. The indirect effects include our ability to get national touring acts to consider our venue as a spot on tour given the age restrictions we are now forced to impose in fear of being ticketed for dancing infractions. Whether booking the show ourselves or working with an outside promoter, a 19+ attendance restriction can be very debilitating.

Jeremy Buckley said...

3) This situation also affects the city in a few ways. It is troubling as a citizen of Lincoln that a venue owned by the city is exempt from rules enforced against private businesses. Words like antitrust and monopoly come to mind, not democracy.

We are in talks of voting on building a new arena. Would this "inherent trust" factor in to why the rules would be different for a city arena than a privately owned music venue in the heart of downtown Lincoln where there is constant police presence?

In addition, as a business that pays taxes, we are generating revenue for the city to commit to programs that help Lincoln's citizens, pay wages for city employees, and fix potholes, which is a concern for quite a few people at the moment. Between May and the end of the year for 2009 we hosted four sold out shows (capacity 637) with an average ticket price of $17.50. This equaled more than 3K in sales taxes paid. We hosted perhaps 100 music concerts with varying attendance throughout the year to add to that total.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say we could easily add a five-figure total to the cities sales tax coffers in any given year. This can only happen if we can recruit national bands to come play in Lincoln. I'm sure I have more to say but hopefully I'll hear back from Chief Casady and others and this conversation can continue.

Anonymous said...

There's not going to be more music scenes in this town and the bars, with or without, live music are going broke. Simple fact, the laws are killing these venues. And further more, that event center that we can't afford to build is going to be empty, becuse people won't be able to afford the shows.

Heather & Luke said...

The law defines dancing as "the shuffling of feet". This gives the impression that if you wanted to be nit picky about it you could fine any bar lacking a permit just for having patrons stepping side to side. In fact, I know some people who dance that way all the time, every time.

I am a local musician and I can tell you, this really does hurt local bands. As we all get older we all go out less. Market research has shown that the most powerful entertainment dollar rests in the hands of 13-18 year olds. Think about it. When is the last time you spent money on going out? How many times a month do any of us get to go out? Ok, now answer me this: When is the last time your teenager asked you for money to go out? Their (your) money could be going to a local business (both bands and to a lesser extent, venues) and making a huge difference. Movies and the mall aren't really affected by one kid not spending money there. Bands notice every single patron. Every cover charge is an honor. Some of our most passionate fans are 14, 15. Some of our songs are danceable. I would feel awful if some kid who was really feeling something I wrote and was allowing that feeling to be expressed in movement was apologetically told to stop by some bartender who then had to feel bad because he understands what the kid was doing. And teens are so impressionable. That's something that would stick with them for a while. Maybe not forever but I know I had embarrassing things happen 15-20 years ago that still have an effect on my current decisions.

I grew up in a small town in the 90's and all we had to do was go to all ages shows. We were there for the music. Sure, we had a couple of creepos but we took care of each other for the sake of the show. If it hadn't been for those precious experiences I would not be who I am. I wouldn't spend money on band merchandise that they could spend on groceries. I wouldn't be passionate about music, both my own and that of my friends.


Trixie said...

One of the things that, without actually going to shows in person, parents or community leaders might fail to realize is how the nature of the music itself will support the age limit of the crowd. Most shows that would draw a 16-18 year old audience are not shows that I know any of my peers would likely end up at. We simply have different tastes. As for the odd creepy adult out there - you'd better believe his/her presence will be as obvious as if they had a neon "Perv Alert" light flashing above their head.

Again, younger audience members are far more safe at a legal, responsible venue with adequate security than they are exploring their other entertainment options unsupervised. Yes, teens at school dances may end up doing serious grinding - I've seen the videos and it freaks me out as much is it must parents - but that is so far from what happens at shows with live bands, it's not even something that can be discussed in the same context. The risk your 17 or 18 year old college student takes to entertain themselves at a house party or something like it, with unchecked alchol or age limits, makes me far more concerned for their well-being.

Perhaps parents could go to some live shows themselves and see what the environment is like in order to comprehend what it is their child will be walking into. They may not enjoy the music, but they will see in about 2 minutes that the debauchery and insanity they've pictured in their head is not at all what the reality is.

I think the chief is right in saying that perhaps the issue we need to be addressing is the age limit on the dancing permit in the first place. I, as a nearly 40 year old woman who's spent a good chunk of the last 20 years going to local live music both here and in larger urban areas, would gladly send my teenage son or daughter to a show at any number of the venues in Lincoln and be comfortable with how well he/she will be looked out for while they're there. And I would be thrilled to know that they were participating in a vibrant, creative local scene and supporting local businesses. I'm pleased to see the issue being addressed so publicly and look forward to finding a solution that benefits the young people in question, the parents who care for them, the businesses offering the entertainment and the overall culture of a town I love so much.

Tom Casady said...


Nice to meet you. Let me reemphasize: I'm not your problem. I don't care what the age limit is. I only care that we have some kind of system for reviewing applications for dance permits to ensure that YOUR COMPETTITORS aren't running a bootleg event in the third floor of an empty warehouse with no permit, no license, no fire inspection, no security, and little more than bunch of unsafe conditions, a willing band, and six gallons of flat black latex paint. A permit lets us review that in advance, and if he or she doesn't apply for a permit, we've got a good violation to shut things down and cite the promoter for. I'm not hallucinating, we really have had (and will have) such things right here in Lincoln. As for the age limit, if any, that is not my concern.

I realize that you are not doing these things. I have to think about the lowest common denominator, though: the occasional person who will do exactly what the law allows him or her to get away with. If you revoke the ordinances outright, how do you prevent or intervene in the egregious situations that we have encountered and will encounter in the future?

Heather and Luke:

On the contrary, I don't think you'll find any definition in the laws of dancing. If you do, please point me in the right direction. Lacking a specific definition in the law, I think you revert to common dictionary definitions. Youtube videos seem to show the rhythmic movement of people to music.


I'm not as comfortable as you with the "perv alert." Maybe that's because I know all of them, and read the police reports. The stuff I have to know is one of the most difficult parts of my job. That said, I've been asked on multiple occasions by parents whether it's safe to let their kids go to a certain local live music venue. My answer has always been, "Yes, I think so." If they are young, as in under 18, I think I'd condition that on an early curfew. I'm more concerned about 14, 15, and 16 year olds, because (just my opinion) it's around the age of 17 and 18 that most have figured out that there is something a little creepy when a 20 year old college junior is so darned interested in a high school sophomore. The importance of the buddy system, monitoring your drink, protecting your purse, the sense not to leave with someone who's name you don't know, the ability to see beyond car, cash and good looks, and so forth all comes with a little more experience than many 14-17 year olds have had. Capisce?


This has been a nice discussion, and I have enjoyed the dialog. Please feel free to use my blog as your forum to continue, but I think I've expressed my views on this fully, and am now merely repeating myself repeating myself. Please don't set me up as your straw man in a fantasy debate. Dance if you want!

Tom Casady said...

Oh, BTW...

Syren, I agree with you. That's the whole problem, isn't it?

The Wunder: not much, I'll admit, but not as clueless as you might think.

goodcrack: To the best of my knowledge, nobody involved in the actual decisions reads my blog, so it's probably non-productive to try to sway opinion here, but have at it.

That's what she said...

Gotta post this! Can't believe I'm the first.

Zen said...

Anon-8:40-the solution to that isn't the 'government' or the police department raising my kids. This is legislation that was then, as is now, a solution looking for a problem.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Chief but I gotta point this out....

In looking at your posts a coupple weeks ago on crime in Lincoln, I didn't see any trends on the frequency of shenanigans over the years...

Also - there didn't seem to be a bar graph for rumbles either...

ED said...



Tom Casady said...



As I believe I have made perfectly clear, the age limit on dance permits is not a police issue: we have no real stake in it, and can enforce it at any age the City Council sets. This is a public policy issue, and should be decided by elected legislators, if they want to keep the separation of teenagers and adults that exists in Lincoln's current ordinances concerning dance permits.