For a brief period, it seemed Hallowell, the Maine music mecca beside the Kennebec, had morphed into Bomont, Utah, the fictional conservative town that kept Kevin Bacon and his buddies from dancing in Footloose. It's a "WAR ON DANCING" declared musician Sam Shain in a Facebook post. "No Dancing Allowed" read a handwritten note at Higher Grounds on Saturday night. People were urged to write State Senator Patrick Flood and State Representative Sharon Treat to "draw some attention to this absurdity."
What was going on?
"There were some nighttime details done last week in Hallowell," explains state fire inspector Tim Fuller, "and also in Gardiner and Augusta." State statute reads (Title 8, Section 161): "A building or any part of the building used for public dancing purposes, either habitually or occasionally, must have posted at all times of dances a proper license obtained from the Commissioner of Public Safety."
Those beloved nightspots — except for the Wharf — in Hallowell did not have an up-to-date license. Not the Liberal Cup, not Hoxter's, not Higher Grounds. The Wharf currently has a Hallowell dancing monopoly!
"It's pretty straightforward," Fuller says. The license costs $117 per year, and the establishment has to pass a fire inspection — the same inspection it has to pass to remain open for business in general (Title 25, Section 2452, if you'd like to do the research).
So, until bar owners get up to date, that's the deal. A couple of check-in calls with bars found bartenders who couldn't remember a "dancing inspection" in a very long time, but that's hardly surprising. The entire Fire Marshal's Inspections Division consists of "a supervisor, six field inspectors, and three clerical staff." For the entire state. It's possible that checking up on dancing licenses is low on the priority list.
It also causes one to wonder: Is there a dancing snitch? Why now? Fuller says it was a routine check-in.
But it's not all bad news: "The music itself does not constitute dancing," Fuller says. "You can have music, have people singing and playing guitar, and if people are not dancing, then they are not in violation of the statute. But when they are dancing and found to be dancing then they are subject to the state law."
And who decides what, exactly, dancing is?
"The definition of dancing is not in the regulation," Fuller says. "I guess if you wanted to go to Webster maybe, it can be used — if it will actually define it. It's not cut and dry. I don't know that it's a gray area, but dancing is a term that's probably been around since back when music first came around."