Maui’s Weird Dancing Rules

People dancing in a nightclub
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In Hawaii, there are four county governments: the City & County of Honolulu (Oahu), Kauai County, Hawaii County (Big Island), and Maui County (Maui, Molokai, Lanai). Maui County has distinguished itself as somewhat peculiar in one rather particular regard, and that is its Liquor Commission’s policy on dancing in establishments that serve alcohol.

Simply put, it’s illegal. But it’s really not that simple. This is because “dancing” is not clearly defined. But if you’re doing it and you’re not on a designated dancefloor, you’re breaking the law. Liquor Commission inspectors patrol establishments without “dancefloors” to crack down on clandestine dancers.

The current state of dancing regulation on Maui has long been known as the “Footloose Law.” It’s bizarre, really. There have been bills at the state legislature in the past seeking to require county Liquor Commissions to clearly define what dancing actually is. Does toe-tapping count? What about head-bobbing? Those bills languished in committee and went nowhere,

There is another new bill at the legislature that seeks the same thing as such past bills. It’s still alive, facing another committee referral. The language of the bill states that “the rules of each county liquor commission shall include a definition of the term ‘dancing’”.

A group of Maui artists and musicians has been fighting for years to change the ambiguous, even dubious regulation of dancing in Maui establishments that serve alcohol for years. It’s a noble cause for a culture whose mythology, history, and genealogies are passed down through the generations via hula, the very essence of dance.

Hula was banned in public in 1830, then later heavily regulated, until King David Kalakaua proclaimed hula “the language of the heart and therefore the heart of the Hawaiian people.” The king was known as the “Merrie Monarch” for his celebrating Hawaiian arts and culture, and the massive hula competition that bears his name, the Merrie Monarch Festival continues to attract thousands from all over Hawaii and the world every year.

Maui’s visiting and resident booty-shakers have hope that a bill currently at the legislature will finally clearly define what dancing is (don’t we just know it when we see it?). Perhaps it will expose Maui’s current regulations on dancing as arcane, or even silly, and force the county to mend its ways.

There are great places for dancing on Maui. But like crossing the street, look both ways.

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