Anna Halprin, Lance Armstrong, and the Night Moves Court Case

There was an interesting court case recently (“Night Moves vs the State of New York“) in which a Strip Club owner sued the government, arguing that his patrons should not have to pay sales tax on their entry fees, and lap dances. The merit of the case related to a statute that waives sales tax for professional live entertainment, including dance performance. Dancers in strip clubs are professionals, and what are we, puritans?

The line between porn and modern dance actually launched the career of renowned choreographer Anna Halprin, who was famously arrested in 1965 after performing her work “Parades and Changes” (which involves everyday movements, including undressing.) But even within the avant-garde dance community, it is offensive to compare exotic dance to professional modern dance.

Paper Scene, Parades and Changes, Choreography by Anna Halprin

The values embedded in stripping and the values embedded in non-profit dance are entirely different. If one tries to twin them, to pretend that they are of the same family, it degrades non-profit dance and threatens its survival. Making the case for government support (arts funding) and government subsidy (the non-profit tax deduction) is a challenge in the current political environment. Sexuality continues to be a lightning rod for controversy, and even considering extending the non-profit tax deduction to exotic dance makes the deduction’s defense more difficult.

We shouldn’t waive the sales tax for exotic dance because professional modern dance is good, not because exotic dance is bad. It’s not uncommon for people to try to twin concepts together, and the problem in this situation and others isn’t so much the approval of the one, but the pollution of the other.

Lance Armstrong recently went on Oprah to apologize for his theft of seven Tour de France titles, and subsequently fraudulently soliciting over $470 million dollars in donations to his foundation. Armstrong has a number of apologists, including his biographer the Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, who recently penned a column explaining all of the reasons why she’s not angry with him. As with the Strip Club court case, Lance Armstrong is another one of those cases where people are trying to wrap reasonable arguments around an inexcusable proposition.  Lance Armstrong’s success was predicated on a narrative that was a lie, constructed around an athletic success that was a sham. His deception is all the more terrible because of the tremendous honorable effort he marshaled using his fraud. What now?

There are real heroes out there that we never knew because we were paying attention to Lance. The Livestrong Foundation raised over $470 million dollars between 1997 and 2011, and someone who wasn’t lying should have had a chance to solicit those donations, but Lance Armstrong’s championship wake swamped and prevented that. His fraud as an athlete underwrote every check written to Livestrong. A similar non-profit fraud was perpetrated by the founder of the Central Asia Institute, and exposed in 2011 by both Sixty Minutes and John Krakauer (Three Cups of Deceit.) If we accept Lance Armstrong’s apology, the message it sends is that the ends justify the means.

In his famous Supreme Court opinion on obscenity, Justice Potter Stewart, who was being asked to define the difference between art photography and pornography admitted simply, “perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.” Stripping and concert dance are not twins, and success and fraud are not twins either. Sometimes we over-complicate our judgments, and as Justice Stewart might agree, we risk sending a terrible message to youth when we do.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.