NYC’s exotic dance scene weighs in: Is stripping an art form?

Is stripping a performance art?
THINKSTOCK

A strip club in Albany is making the case today to the state’s highest court that exotic dancing is a performance art and should be exempt from paying sales taxes.

Nite Moves gentleman’s club owes $124,000 in sales tax from its “couch performances,” or lap dances, done by the strippers employed there. The case has been moving up through New York’s court system since last year, but now the club is arguing to the state’s highest court that those dances are “live dramatic or musical arts performances” and hence, should be given the same tax breaks that ballet or theater companies receive.

“I predict if we have to get four votes out of seven, we will get four out of seven,” W. Andrew McCullough, an attorney for Nite Moves, boasted to Metro after court. “We’re going to win. I would say that some judges felt the government isn’t in the business of deciding [whether stripping is art] and that’s our position.”

The controversial case has caught the attention of those who have personally taken a twirl on the pole in New York City.

Bonnie Denn, a former exotic dancer who now produces Le Scandal Cabaret at a theater in Midtown West, said that while a stripper can make her performance artistic, the audience isn’t always going to see it that way.

“I’ve seen a lot of artistic things in strip clubs, especially in New York City where a lot of people are doing it on the side to pay for their dance lessons or acting classes,” Denn told Metro. “But the intention of the people that go there is usually not for art.”

Scores, an upscale gentleman’s club in Chelsea, charges sales tax on alcohol, entrance fees and dining. But most private dances are done by independent performers who are not employees of the club, making them responsible for handling their own taxes, explained Steve Jaffe, director of acquisitions and licensing for Scores.

“Maybe what they have to do in Albany is wear ballet slippers when they’re stripping, I don’t know,” joked Jaffe. “I would say if belly dancing is an art, than this should be an art.”

But art, however, is not so easily defined, especially when it comes to what goes on in strip clubs, Denn added.
 
“I’ve seen a lot of things that I didn’t really think were art. I thought it was more like exhibitionism,” Denn said. “But who am I to say what’s art?”

The judges will likely issue their ruling on Nite Moves’ case next month.

McCullough said he can’t predict whether the court’s ruling will have implications for all New York strip clubs, especially because Nite Moves doesn’t have a liquor license, unlike many other gentleman’s clubs.

“There are issues regarding the sale of alcohol that could muck it up for certain people,” he said. “Until we read the decision, we won’t know which direction to go in.” 



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