Senators demand dancing definition

A bill to require county liquor commissions to define the term “dancing” in establishments that serve alcohol advanced Tuesday from the state Senate to the state House of Representatives.

Bill 464 received unanimous approval from state senators, although it was opposed as unnecessary by the Maui County Liquor Commission as well as the City and County of Honolulu.

To permit dancing, Maui drinking establishments are required to have a dance floor of at least 100 square feet, clearly designated and alcohol free.

Maui County Department of Liquor Control Deputy Director Traci Fujita Villarosa has maintained the county rule is a safety issue because bar patrons dancing with drinks might spill them or get glass on the floor.

In addition, in written testimony submitted by the department, it contended that “dancing regulations are unnecessary because we have not cited any liquor licensees for any dancing-related violations.”

Maui liquor-serving establishment operators have reported being aware of the rule and enforcing it with customers tempted to dance outside a dance floor.

In written testimony, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii reported receiving a number of complaints about Maui’s “Footloose” rule, referring to the 1984 film (remade in 2011) in which a hip teenager moves to a small town to discover that dancing and rock ‘n’ roll have been outlawed.

According to the ACLU, complaints from Maui allege that liquor control officers are “overzealous” in their enforcement of the no dancing rule in island establishments and that “the Liquor Control Commission has been unresponsive and outright hostile to complaints.”

The Maui rule “fails to define dancing, and, as such, leaves small business owners and patrons without any notice as to what movements would be considered ‘dancing,’ ” the ACLU said.

Other people submitted written testimony in favor of the measure.

“It’s just dancing, gosh . . . And it’s fun . . . Much better than so many other things,” said John Lyons.

“I love to dance!” exclaimed Takiya Covington Smith in submitted testimony. “It is something that my ancestors have done in celebration of many things, including life and even to bring rains. No one should be allowed to say where I can or cannot express myself in and through movement of my soul. We aren’t out to hurt anyone, we just want to dance!”

“Dancing is not a crime,” said Julie Jones.

Anthony Simmons added that, “as an avid dancer, I find it horrible how the system wants people to be afraid to dance. Dancing is a joyous activity as long as we respect each other. People should be allowed to bob their heads, snap their fingers and even shimmy their hips if the rhythm moves them.”

A report by the state Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs said that in failing to define “dancing,” the Maui ordinance “leaves business owners and patrons without notice as to what movements would be considered ‘dancing.’ “

The state measure would require county liquor commissions to prescribe by rule any limitations on licensed premises regarding dance, including a definition of “dancing” to avoid vagueness and ambiguity.”

Maui Sens. J. Kalani English, Roz Baker and Gil Keith-Agaran are listed among lawmakers who introduced the measure.

* Brian Perry can be reached at