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N.Y.’s Highest Court To Decide If Strip Club’s Lap Dances Should Be Tax Exempt

At The Crux Of The Debate: Does Exotic Dancing Qualify As A Performance Art?
A dancer performs at a strip club  (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

A dancer performs at a strip club (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Is it high-brow art or a lewd side show?

On Wednesday, the state’s highest court was taking on tax breaks … and lap dances.

As CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported, it has become the workout of choice for many women. But now pole dancing — and lap dancing — are at the center of a fierce debate.

Is it dramatic art? Or just lurid adult entertainment?

“I think there is a fine line. Some of these places do exploit women,” pole dancing student Kim West told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider on Wednesday.

The owners of a nightclub in Albany said all exotic dancing should be treated equally.

“We say, well clearly what we do is dance; therefore it’s exempt,” one owner said.

They are fighting in court to get out of more than $100,000 in back taxes, arguing that since their dancers stage so-called dramatic performances, under the current tax code in New York the admission fees shouldn’t include sales tax.

“We call this particular argument grasping at straws,” tax practitioner David Selig said.

Many women who practice said all of their moves are carefully choreographed. They said they take immense strength and skill, and they should be classified as art.

But they still acknowledge there’s a big difference between what happens at pole dancing classes and inside a nightclub.

“What they do is completely not what we do. It’s completely two different things,” Sasha Holder said.

“It’s not just about the tricks and spins and the inverts. You need dance to tie that all together,” added professional pole dancer Gabrielle Valliere. “Whereas I know the motivation at a strip club is very different.”

The debate was front and center inside the state Court of Appeals on Wednesday. Attorneys for the tax board have argued that since patrons pay for private dances — and scantily clad women — no artistic exemption applies.

“They are running commercials on TV and advertisements, very provocative commercials, for patrons to come down and separate themselves from their monies. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, other than New York State is entitled to its fair share,” Selig said.

While the debate plays out in court, aspiring pole dancers will continue honing their craft.

The case is now pending in the Court of Appeals. A decision is expected to be issued in the next few months.

Should lap dances be considered performance art and therefore be tax exempt? Share your thoughts below.