When Governments Try To Prohibit Dancing

“My dancing days are done.” —Beaumont and Fletcher, “The Scornful Lady”

In A Nutshell

Like the movie, Footloose, where religious zealots in a small US town banned their kids from dancing, some countries are unexpectedly overreacting when their citizens want to dance publicly. For example, if bar patrons in Sweden begin to sway to the music, the bar can be fined if it doesn’t have a dance permit. Apparently, officials in Sweden believe that spontaneous dancing causes fights and other situations that may require a police response. China has cracked down on dancing grannies, and Germany bans loud music and dancing during certain holidays.

The Whole Bushel

Like the movie, Footloose, where religious zealots in a small US town banned their kids from dancing, some countries are unexpectedly overreacting when their citizens want to dance publicly. For example, if bar patrons in Sweden begin to sway to the music, the bar can be fined if it doesn’t have a dance permit. The same is true for restaurants and night clubs. Apparently, officials in Sweden believe that spontaneous dancing causes fights and other situations that may require a police response.

In 2012, Swedish nightclub owner Anders Varveus led a group of over 1,000 people in Stockholm to protest the bizarre law. The protesters wore signs that said things like “dance or die” and “live, love, dance.” After hearing some speeches in Humlegarden park, they danced their way through the city. Varveus vowed to organize a larger protest if officials didn’t repeal the law. He’s going to get his chance.

Recently, the Swedish parliament voted to keep the law in place. Varveus complained that how a person moves his or her body shouldn’t be regulated. A new demonstration is planned for August at the Pride Parade in Stockholm.

Even members of parliament are divided on the law. “Exactly what constitutes dancing? Is it when guests at an establishment start moving a bit to the music?” asks Liberal Party MP Mathias Sundin. “Or is it when they hook arms? Or when they twirl around . . . ?”

But sometimes, it’s less about the dance movements and more about religion. At least, that’s the case in Germany. Since the Middle Ages, Germany has banned dancing over the Easter holiday in what is called “Tanzverbot.” In 13 of the 16 states, many establishments like nightclubs that play music have to close on Good Friday because dancing is illegal then. Otherwise, they may face a hefty fine. There’s also a Good Friday dancing ban in the other three states, but it extends for only part of the day.

The strictest state is Baden-Wurttemberg, which bans dancing from Maundy Thursday through Easter Monday and from Christmas Eve through Boxing Day. Some German officials want to change the law but the Catholic church, which must be consulted, is adamant that it must stay. “Good Friday is a Christian holiday dedicated to remembering the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus,” said Uwe Becker of the Christian Democratic Union. “That does not go together with loud, boisterous celebration.”

But at least the Swedes and Germans don’t have to deal with “dancing grannies.” In China, residents routinely complain about retirees who descend on parks and plazas en masse after dinner to play loud music and dance with one another in synchronized routines. It’s the noise that bothers most of the grannies’ detractors. One man in Beijing got so worked up that he shot a gun into the air and set his dogs on the dancers. In Wuhan, a group of enraged residents threw feces from the top floors of their building onto the dancing old women below.

Finally, Chinese officials stepped in. “Dancing in public squares represents the collective aspect of Chinese culture, but now it seems that the overenthusiasm of participants has dealt it a harmful blow with disputes over noise and venues,” said Liu Guoyong, chief of the General Administration of Sport’s mass-fitness department. “So we have to guide it with national standards and regulations.” However, the government decided to regulate the dance routines more than the noise. From now on, public dancing has to be uniform, including only those synchronized routines approved by the government.

Show Me The Proof

Total Travel: Swedes dance to protest dance license law
UPI: Swedes dance to protest dance license law
The Independent: Dancing is banned over Easter in Germany
NY Times: China Puts a Hitch in the Step of ‘Dancing Grannies’