Expert Lap-Dance Testimony Fails to Persuade Court

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Rejecting expert-witness testimony on the subject of lap dances, a court in New York has held that a strip club is liable for $125,000 in unpaid sales taxes. The expert failed to convince the court that a lap dance qualifies as a tax-exempt "dramatic or musical art performance" under New York law.

The court's opinion describes "Nite Moves" as an establishment "where patrons may view exotic dances performed by women in various stages of undress." The government was more interested in looking at the books, however, and after an audit it concluded that it was owed a lot of money. The club then argued that the relevant fees were tax-exempt, a question that boiled down to whether they were charges for admission to a "live dramatic, choreographic or musical performance."

On that topic, the club offered an expert witness described as a "cultural anthropologist who has conducted extensive research in the field of exotic dance." Based on personal observation, a review of certain videos, and interviews with the dancers, the expert testified that the "presentations," as she referred to them, "at Nite Moves are unequivocally live dramatic choreographic performances." She also opined that the private dances being performed at the club involved "similar kinds of movements" as the ones she had seen on stage, but admitted that she hadn't actually watched any of the former (which would have been a bit awkward, frankly).

Similar, maybe, but is it really fair to say these sorts of things are "choreographed"? The court thought not. "[N]either the generalized testimony" of a dancer that the private sessions did indeed involve "dance moves," nor that dancer's description "of a particular move she often would employ while performing such a dance," was enough to prove "that these private performances were in fact choreographed."

I think it's fair to say that at least some of these kinds of performances could be considered "dramatic," but the club doesn't seem to have made that argument. Maybe the dancers could each learn a few lines of Shakespeare?