International Municipal Lawyers Association - Local Government Blog

Bada Bing and the First Amendment | February 2, 2009

Posted By: Dwight Merriam, Partner, Robinson & Cole, LLP

I’ll bet some of you miss The Sopranos, as I do. I have the complete boxed set and probably have seen all the episodes by now. But, never, not ever, did I think about the First Amendment implications of the pole dancing in the Bada Bing until last year when a Pennsylvania case hit the press. My sole focus, like yours, in watching the conspiratorial meetings held at The Bing was on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (section 901(a) of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 (Pub.L. 91-452, 84 Stat. 922, enacted October 15, 1970)); RICO is codified as Chapter 96 of Title 18 of the United States Code, 18 U.S.C. § 1961–1968).

Last year, a nominee for my annual Zoning and Planning Law Report Awards was Adams Township, Pennsylvania, which had refused to let Stephanie Babines open a dance studio where she proposed to teach pole dancing. Pole dancing, for those for you feigning ignorance, is a form of dance expression using a pole and can be aerobic exercise. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pole_dance. There is even standardization for the poles.

That authoritative source for constitutional law issues, USA Today, reported on the controversy last summer: “Although Babines’ classes include pole-dancing, power lap dance, strip tease and ‘SeXXXercise,’ they are all taught and performed fully clothed, the lawsuit states. Men can’t take the classes, and no spectators are allowed. ‘This is not a strip joint or gentleman’s club,’ Babines said in a statement.” http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-08-29-pole-dancing_N.htm.

After a diligent search, I am unable to find a definition of “power lap dance,” but I assume it has to do with the aerobic exercise benefits of the expressive conduct properly executed under the auspices of a skilled trainer. I will look into it further.

The Township Code Enforcement Officer, Gary Peaco, said that conducting the exercise operation with a pole made it a sexually oriented business. There was a local hearing back in May in which “…Peaco testified he didn’t need to interview Babines because her website’s ‘pink-and-black color scheme … and the high-heeled shoe in her logo’ indicated to him she planned to run a sexually oriented business.”

In stepped — quess who — to represent Babines and commence a suit in federal Court? Right, the American Civil Liberties Union.

The case was back in the news last week. It has finally settled, as reported on Friday, with the township paying Babines $75,000 in damages and attorneys fees, after an agreement in October under which she was allowed to open and operate at the location where she had already spent $10,000 to improve for the use. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09031/945950-85.stm.

Sara Rose, one of her lawyers, said: “Although the type of dance instruction that Stephanie offers raised some eyebrows — and garnered a lot of publicity — this case was really about a young woman who set out to open a business so she could share her enthusiasm for this dance form with other women.”

Babines offered this about the resolution: “I’m sorry this turned into a federal lawsuit, but I’m glad the misunderstanding has been resolved and I can now concentrate on teaching women a form of art and exercise that allows them to have fun, feel confident about their bodies and express their sexuality.”

Her classes include among others: “striptease, hoop aerobics, power lap dance, Stiletto Strut, belly and salsa dancing, SeXXXercise — an ab and core workout — as well as pole dancing.”


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This blog is made possible by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), but may include guest bloggers (who are attorneys with experience in local government matters) who might or might not work for IMLA. Their views (and those expressed on this site) do not necessarily express the views of IMLA.

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