Lapdancing clubs caught on the hop
A BIZARRE legal Catch 22 has caught Ireland's lapdancers on the hop. At its centre, a complex issue of licensing law stands to make or break night life's latest sideline. When, the courts are demanding to know, is a dance really a dance? Does a carpeted dance floor rule out the
A BIZARRE legal Catch 22 has caught Ireland's lapdancers on the hop. At its centre, a complex issue of licensing law stands to make or break night life's latest sideline. When, the courts are demanding to know, is a dance really a dance? Does a carpeted dance floor rule out the definition, or will a simple shuffle and the odd tap of the foot meet the law's most stringent criteria?
Although just one club Dublin's Lapello has so far faced the rigour of the District Court, the country's other lapdancing venues have been left wondering whether a landmark ruling means this is their last dance, or just another shimmy through the complex choreography of Irish legislature.
The Lapello, brainchild of its owner Chris Kelly, has been no stranger to the headlines since its launch in May last year.
The Irish Times name-checked the club in an article which described lapdancers as "professional sex goddesses". One dancer explained how she "tamed the men with subtle sexiness" to earn up to £1,000 every week.
Last week, however, the headlines were more galling. At stake in a confrontation with the authorities is nothing less than a threat to the clubs' continued existence; at issue is a complicated system of licensing laws.
In the Dublin District Court, Judge Clare Leonard ruled that Lapello was not entitled to hold a public dancing licence. The club had been launched without the permit, the court heard, innocently believing it was never needed. Then the guards told Chris Kelly he would have to apply for a dance licence, and he obtained a temporary version. Last week, that licence was withdrawn. Public dancing, the court was told, was simply not on the menu at Lapello.
"The type of dancing is exhibition dancing," the judge said, "more in the category of entertainment than public dancing."
Law can be a singularly bewildering obstacle course, and so it has proved for the proprietors of Lapello. Faced with a garda instruction, the club attempted to comply, only to find the same force delivering courtroom objections to the application. In effect, garda officers told the club it needed a public dancing licence, then claimed that customers were not allowed to dance. The Catch 22 was complete.
One legal source I spoke to sent me copies of just a fraction of the relevant law, the 1935 Public Dance Halls Act; the excerpts ran to dozens of pages.
Key to the lapdancers' dilemma is the definition of "public dancing", a catch-all description coined almost seven decades ago.
"The expression public dancing means dancing which is open to the public and in which persons present are entitled to participate actively," the Act announces.
Meanwhile, legal experts remain perplexed about the implications of the ruling on the lapdancing scene. Effectively, the court rejected Chris Kelly's claim that punters were allowed to dance during breaks in the lapdancing. Where would they dance, the court wondered? The only suitable space was covered with carpet.
Having rejected the notion that customers might dance at Lapello, the legal complexities increase. If the public is not dancing, does Lapello need a public dancing licence at all? Here again, one legal source believes, the club might find itself trapped by the labyrinthine workings of the law.
"Case law suggests," the lawyer says, "that standing in one place and moving your feet needs a licence."
On the wider club scene in Ireland, the importance of public dance licences lies partially in their knock-on value. Holders of publicans' or wine licences who also have dance licences can use the latter as a basis to apply for exemption orders in the District Court. These are certificates allowing clubs to extend their opening hours until 2.30am in the morning. It is the night scene's chief advantage over pubs.
While the arguments go on, meanwhile, Lapello's internet site continues to advertise the types of attractions customers might expect to find in its Dame Street club. The hyperbole makes the club sound like a cross between a therapy clinic and the Bolshoi with boobs.
Dancer Sabrina "is blonde and voluptuous ...and has a fantastic body." Jacqueline is "an expert dancer" while Susan "loves naughty sexy dancing".
Meanwhile, the country's first topless bar opened in Dublin's Parliament Street last night.