The unstoppable rise in interest for dance music has become a formidable force in both the capital and elsewhere in Ireland. However, the largest elephant in the room for most when discussing nightlife in the country surely has to be the strict licensing laws that all venues must adhere to.
Sunil Sharpe recently claimed “it’s laughable” that Ireland still has yet to update it’s nightlife legislation to match that of other European cities. Not only must the venues close way too early, Ireland still has a baffling piece of legislation in place today that requires a license to be bought to host people dancing publicly – The Public Dance Hall Act of 1935.
Dancing bans mostly saw their time of action around the world in the 20th Century, mostly used by religious institutions to fight against “degeneracy” and to segregate races. Two other developed cities that still had a dancing ban in place in recent years, New York and Tokyo respectfully, repealed their dancing bans through uniting the dance music community and venue owners with local politicians.
Important work is being done in Ireland towards achieving something similar and improving our clubbing landscape through organisations such as Give Us The Night, but one college graduate is challenging the Irish political establishment through art. Lorcan Rush, a final year student in NCAD, is dedicating his grad show exhibition, entitled ‘1935-2035’ to raise awareness about The Public Dance Halls Act in the hope of eventually getting it repealed. The exhibition is composed of old nightclub flyers from the 1970s and 80s, and it’s centrepiece, a re-purposed dolly cart that Lorcan has decal’d with his own custom font.
“You’re standing on an unlicensed dance floor. Dance” it reads. Lorcan took the platform around various locations in Dublin, including the Dáil, and danced to raise awareness surrounding the act among the public. We caught up with Lorcan ahead of the exhibition at the NCAD grad show from now until June 17.
Can you tell us what The 1935 Public Dance Hall Act is and what it means to you?
“The Public Dance Hall Act of 1935 is a piece of legislation set in place by the Catholic Church and The Gaelic League to regulate dancing as a social and cultural activity. The act was the aftermath of The Anti Jazz Campaign. An inherently racist and sexist group of cultural nationalists. The act states that wherever there is public dancing a license is needed. Ireland is one of the only countries to have this law. The licenses are expensive and tedious to acquire. This archaic law does not represent the Ireland that I know. As a nation we are known for having a penchant for going out and having a jig all night. Dancing is a liberating, communal activity, this act is a restrictive act set in place to curtail the social mixing of genders and classes.”
How strongly do you feel about changing Dublin night life legislation?
“Very strongly. This was not just a college project for me. It is just the start. But I’m just a designer, you know? This needs lots of voices.”
Is the main goal of ‘1935-2035’ to raise awareness surrounding it, in the hopes of getting the law repealed?
“The aim I set myself with this project was to create a dialogue. When I first found out about the act I started telling all my mates about how ridiculous it is. Everyone was always really surprised. Quite often people just didn’t believe me. How can you change something if no one knows it exists? I just wanted to get DJs, musicians, nightclub owners, politicians and music lovers talking about the issue. I guess if you’ve asked to talk to me I must doing something right! Also, TD Mick Wallace has one of my posters asking for the acts amendment hung on his wall. So that’s a start!”
If you look at places that had a similar type of legislation in place, like Tokyo and New York’s racially discriminatory 1926 Cabaret Act, these laws were overturned through co-operation between local politicians and people within the dance music community, most notably the intersectional label and collective Discwoman. Do you think it’s much harder for politicians to interact with us here in Dublin and Ireland?
“No, quite the opposite! Ireland is much smaller population than New York, and politicians are much easier to get in contact with. A few politicians have already expressed distaste to the act. New York had been rallying for years and years to repeal their 1926 Cabaret Act, and it was only amended last year.”
What was it like dancing in public? Did your commitment to the project fight off any anxieties?
“Yes, definitely. It was nerve racking to get up on my own and pop some moves. I felt ridiculous at first. But that’s kind of the point. Me dancing out there is illegal under this act and that’s what is really ridiculous. The anxieties wore off after a bit. I had right craic. People got involved and then it was just like I was in a nightclub. But, alas, I was not in a nightclub. I was outside the Dáil dancing like no one was watching. My commitment to making a mockery of this act just encouraged me to dance more.”
Finally, and obviously the most important question, what tunes did you put on when you were dancing?
“Definitely the most important question! Like everyone I dance when I’m pottering around my gaff. Don’t lie, we all do it! So I just put a playlist together of all those songs that I can’t help but dance too. The playlist included a wide variety of tracks. Some of my favourites from the playlist include Fleetwood Mac – Everywhere, Marlena Shaw – Touch Me In The Morning, Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough and Mella Dee – Techno Disco Tool. The track I played outside the Dáil was Crispy Bacon by Laurent Garnier. It seemed fitting for a closing tune!”
You can catch Lorcan’s exhibition at the NCAD graduate show from now until June 17.