This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The original "Footloose," released in 1984, was filmed in Utah County locations including Lehi, Provo and Payson where, according to the joke of a friend of mine, the movie's depiction of restrictive anti-dancing laws wasn't considered fiction but a documentary.
With the remake of "Footloose" hitting theaters nationwide this weekend, we believe we can laugh at the idea of communities maintaining laws against teens who want nothing more than to dance to some music.
In St. George, they're not laughing. They say they're living it.
At Gogo37, a music venue and art gallery on St. George Boulevard, the southern Utah city's main drag, a sign hangs behind the stage where bands sometimes perform. It reads: "Look. Listen. Enjoy. But please don't dance or the city will close us down."
St. George doesn't ban public dancing per se, according to Gogo37 co-owner Ryan Groskreutz. No, city elders overturned the ordinance that made public dancing a ticketable offense in 2004 (yes, in this millennium).
What the city does now, Groskreutz told me, is more subtle, but just as effective: It requires dance clubs to get a business permit but with regulations so complicated, and so arbitrary, that acquiring one is nearly impossible. And even if a business were to jump through all the hoops of fire codes, security requirements, zoning rules and so on, the permit approval is subject to the whim of the St. George City Council.
"To us, it doesn't make a lot of sense to go through all the stress and financial strain of getting these other things approved, just to send it to the City Council and not get it approved anyways," Groskreutz said.
In an interview with the St. George News, Marc Mortensen, assistant to the city manager, dismissed Gogo37's complaints. "How can they be so angry with the city and say we are not permitting when they haven't even submitted an application?" Mortensen said. (My calls to Mortensen were not returned.)
Even if Gogo37 got the City Council's approval, the club would still be under restrictions. There would be no dancing on Sundays. In-and-out privileges the common practice in which patrons can get a wristband or a hand stamp so they can leave and come back inside wouldn't be allowed; patrons would have to pay admission all over again. And the club would be responsible for hiring security guards who hadn't been convicted of "an offense involving alcohol or moral turpitude," though what qualifies as "moral turpitude" is never defined.
To Tara Dunn, one of three newcomers challenging three incumbents for at-large spots on St. George's City Council, the dance-club rules are ridiculous.
"Cedar City's dance ordinance is three sentences long," Dunn said. "St. George's is a whole page."
Dunn sees St. George's dance-club restrictions as part of a broader mindset against establishing a culture of nightlife in St. George.
The current City Council, she believes, ignores the economic benefit of St. George's young adults and the college community at Dixie State College.
"There's very little open [downtown] past 8 or 9 o'clock," Dunn said. "We don't have any form of nightlife there at all. … We're creating too many barriers to economic success. Instead, we've got a merry-go-round."
And that's not a metaphor. One of the major election issues in St. George involves the City Council spending $300,000 of city redevelopment money on an antique carousel that opened this summer in St. George Town Square. Dunn's campaign signs like the one in the window at Gogo37 feature a silhouette of a merry-go-round, with the tagline, "She won't take you for a ride."
Meanwhile, patrons at Gogo37 can listen to the music. They may even sway a bit. But start any funky dance steps, and the heavy hand of the St. George city government could come down.
"We don't want to be like a bump-and-grind dance center," Groskreutz said. "We're a music venue."
And, like the townsfolk in "Footloose," they're holding out for a hero.