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Des Moines may legalize late-night dancing

Dancing the night away in Des Moines doesn't seem to be at the top of many must-do lists. Maybe because it's illegal.
Des Moines Dancing
Jerry Peugh and Becky Grayson dance at the Liar's Club bar in Des Moines, Iowa.Steve Pope / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dancing the night away in Des Moines doesn't seem to be at the top of many must-do lists. Maybe because it's illegal.

An obscure city ordinance outlaws publicly shaking your groove thing in Iowa's biggest city after 2 a.m.

Few even were aware of the ban until members of the nonprofit Des Moines Social Club sought to hold an after-hours dance at their downtown building. They were told no-go on the tango.

"It's a silly law that shouldn't exist and the law shows we aren't keeping up with the times," said Zachary Mannheimer, executive director of the club, which is made up largely of artists.

Officials and boosters in the city of 200,000 who have fought for years to liven up Des Moines' sleepy image agree the ordinance should be repealed. A proposal to do just that was tentatively approved by the City Council on Monday, though a final decision won't come until mid-August.

"It's an antiquated ordinance that doesn't help anybody," said Matt McIver, artistic director of the social club, adding that he was elated with the council's decision.

The ordinance, which dates to at least 1942, bans public dancing between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Residents must suppress the urge to Macarena in public until 8 a.m. on Sunday.

Any dance within the city that can be attended by the public, whether or not they're paying, is subject to the rule. Even venues that allow dancing before the wee hours of the morning must pay $200 for an annual license or $75 to host a single event.

Debate will likely focus on the annual fee during upcoming City Council hearings, as the council must hold two more formal readings of the proposal before the ban can be repealed.

'Police are not against dancing'
The law apparently was intended to coincide with last call at bars and club, according to Assistant City Manager Chris Johansen, but police said they've rarely enforced it for years.

"The Des Moines police are not against dancing," said Lt. Mike Hoffman, commander of the department's vice and narcotics section.

Dance club owners said they'd welcome the change, but also believe many Iowans are likely to prefer sleep over late-night shimmying.

"I don't think it's going to change much of what I'm doing, but it's something that would create some things that are needed for entertainment and people," said Larry Smithson, owner of The Surf Shack in downtown Des Moines.

Liar's Club owner Jeremy Mahler said he'd have to evaluate the change. "It's something where we would have to weigh our options after it's done," he said.

Susan Ramsey, a spokeswoman for the Greater Des Moines Partnership — which promotes the city with the slogan "Whatever you do, do more of it in Des Moines" — said the city's move to repeal the ordinance is "indicative of the metropolitan area we are becoming."

Mannheimer, with the Social Club, called it "a step forward toward Des Moines becoming a 24-hours city."

Still, Des Moines is likely to remain a pretty peaceful place.

"I don't expect there will be an outpouring of events after 2 a.m.," Mannheimer said.