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Should nude lap dances be tax-free? N.Y. court to decide

September 05, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • File photo: Are nude dancers all that different from ballerinas? An attorney for a New York strip club doesn't think so.
File photo: Are nude dancers all that different from ballerinas? An attorney… (Douliery-Hahn / Abaca Press…)

Nude lap dances are no different from a ballet performance or musical arts performance and should be exempt from sales taxes, according to an attorney for a New York strip club.

That's the argument slated to be made Wednesday before the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, and just the latest example of New Yorkers squabbling over where to draw the line between lewd behavior and high-brow art.

The issues in the pending legal case are pretty clear, according to the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets gleefully covering the colorful case. The Nite Moves strip club in Albany contends that its performers are artists and that, accordingly, the club's $11 cover charge and $20 nude lap dances should be exempt from the state's 8% sales tax.

"The seven-judge panel is being asked to interpret an obscure part of the state tax code that exempts sales-tax charges for "dramatic or musical art performances,'" according to the Journal.

No surprise: The state is arguing that a stripper's gyrations are not subject to such exemptions.

You might think the legal argument is a clever publicity ploy by the strip club, located just a few minutes from the state capitol. But there's a lot of money on the table.

The state tax department says the club owes as much as $124,000 dating back to 2005, according to the Associated Press.

The legal battle has been dragging on for some time, with both sides claiming victory at various twists and turns.

At one point, an administrative law judge agreed with Nite Moves, concluding that "the fact that the dancers remove all or part of their costume ... simply does not render such dance routines as something less than choreographed performances."

However, the AP reports, an appellate court ruled that it found no merit to the case. That court cheekily added: "In our view, there can be no serious question that -- at a bare minimum -- petitioner failed to meet its burden of establishing that the private dances offered at its club were choreographed performances,” according to the news service.

The attorney for the club, Andrew McCullough, is being aided in his argument by expert witness Judith Hanna, a University of Maryland anthropologist. She studied the exotic dancers and testified that their moves represent complex "choreographic patterns of exotic dance," according to the Journal.

The case comes to light just days after New York City agreed to settle a lawsuit involving a nude model who was arrested after she took off her clothes in Times Square as part of a body-paint project.


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