Anthropology, Pole Dancing and Tax Exemption

Anthropologists sometimes serve as expert witnesses at courthouses. In this “exotic” case, the anthropological testimony did not impress the court.

“NEW YORK— “Looking for a nightclub experience that isn’t the same old, same old? Nite Moves is an upscale juice bar featuring all the amenities you’d expect from a luxury bar — plus a few surprises.” So says the narrator in an online promo for the Latham, New York-based adult dancing club that features pole- and couch-dancing, as well as a selection of delicious non-alcoholic beverages. But now a court has decided that Nite Moves is indeed “same old, same old.” The owners of the club had audaciously been seeking to argue that erotic dances counted as “dramatic or musical arts performances,” thereby qualifying for a tax exemption. A Tribunal had rejected that claim, and now the appellate division of the state supreme court has upheld that rejection.
This means that Nite Moves must pay up on a $125,000 tax bill dating back to 2005 — though the club is appealing the ruling. “This is a free speech issue,” the club’s lawyer W. Andrew McCullough told the New York Post. “The state doesn’t get to be dance critic.” For its part, the court decision — viewable online — dismisses Nite Moves’s first amendment claims, saying that the law is not discriminating against the club because of its erotic nature: nothing, the court says, would “preclude an adult juice bar from qualifying for the claimed exemptions under a different set of circumstances.”

…The court reserves special disdain for Nite Moves’s unnamed expert witness, a cultural anthropologist who defined “choreography” broadly as “the composition and arrangement of dances.” After visiting the club, interviewing dancers, and watching the Nite Moves DVD, the expert “testified at length regarding the sequential components, aesthetics and principles of exotic dance and, in her report, set forth the choreographic sequence and characteristics of the on-stage dances she viewed on the foregoing DVD.”

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Is Pole Dancing Art? A Court Rules No, Thwarting One Nightclub’s Heroic Quest

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