Is Stripping an Art?
Friday, September 14, 2012
New York State’s highest court is mulling an answer to a question that has long plagued intellectuals: What separates art from mere entertainment? And in this particular case, what separates pole dance from dance?
There’s $400,000 at stake in Nite Moves v. The State of New York Tax Appeals Tribunal, a case that was argued last week. Nite Moves’ attorney, Andrew McCullough, tells Kurt Andersen that the strip joint should enjoy the same tax-exempt status as the American Ballet Theatre or any legitimate dance company. (Nite Moves won the first round of litigation in 2009, but an Appellate Division court reversed that decision a year later.)
At issue is whether exotic dancing falls into the legally defined category of “choreographed performance.” The Albany-area club, which serves neither food nor alcohol, claims that its cover charges and fees for private dances cannot be subject to sales tax simply because the dancers grind more than they jeté. “The State has continually asserted its authority as a dance critic,” McCullough’s brief notes sarcastically. He tells Kurt Andersen that amateur dance troupes are routinely granted tax exemption on their ticket sales, however rudimentary their choreography. And the widening acceptance of nudity in modern dance, Kurt notes, makes a distinction between adult entertainment and serious performance that much more difficult to draw.
Judith Lynne Hanna, a professor at the University of Maryland and author of several books on dance, provided expert testimony for the plaintiffs. Hanna pointed out that George Balanchine used to visit Parisian burlesque shows for inspiration, and provided an analysis of a pole dance routine that identified more than sixty rehearsed movements.
The case will be decided this fall, and a decision in favor of Nite Moves could influence similar cases pending across the country. One thing it will probably not do, however, is help the political career of Andrew McCullough, who is the Libertarian candidate for Attorney General of Utah. He represents numerous adult entertainment clients, which he considers a matter of principle. “Utah is less than free, let’s put it. And they need enlightenment,” he tells Kurt. “I feel like one of the most important things is to protect our freedoms. I do what I can to preach the philosophy, whether it’s in a courtroom or on a stump.”
UPDATE (10/24): The New York Court of Appeals ruled 4-to-3 that Nite Moves did not qualify for the tax exemption. McCullough may ask the US Supreme Court to hear the case.
Private DancerArtist: Tina TurnerAlbum: Private DancerLabel: CapitolPurchase: Amazon