Is Stripping an Art? Depends on the Judge.

By: Michael Seinberg

Night Moves, a strip club in Latham, NY has a case before the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court to determine whether or not it owes some $400,000 in back taxes.  At issue is whether sales tax should be collected on lap dancing. The state says yes and the club says no – big surprise there.

The real surprise is the reasoning – and the fact that the judges have managed to keep straight faces so far. The club contends that lap dancing is art – and even brought in a cultural anthropologist to “study” the dance.  Sure enough, he testified that exotic dancing qualified as an art form. In New York, choreographed performances such as ballet are exempt from sales tax since they are classified as an artistic performance.

So now all the puns, jokes, giggles and so on have made the rounds in both the blogosphere and the mainstream press. On its face, the case seem absurd, but it’s not the only one in play – similar cases are pending in New York City, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Nevada. Ultimately, a lot of money could also be at stake as there are some 150 to 200 similar clubs throughout the New York State. Whatever the court ultimately decides, it will affect NY taxpayers one way or another, even if they never set foot in a strip club.

If the judges rule that lap dancing is an art, then NY taxpayers have had to foot the bill for all this litigation and won’t ever see any payoff. If the judges rule that lap dancing does not qualify, then the increased tax revenue will help cover the legal fees and court costs. You can’t fault Night Moves from trying to get out of a $400,000 tax bill but to do so by claiming that a lap dance has lots in common with, say, a ballet performance is truly stretching it (no pun intended).

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