Stop the boogie: Brussels clubs hit back against 'dance tax'

Story highlights

  • The Belgian capital is enforcing a 'dance tax' on clubs
  • One venue has responded by asking customers not to dance

(CNN)Busting a move just got a whole lot harder in Brussels thanks to authorities enforcing a little-known "dance tax" on revelers in the city.

The obscure tariff orders clubs and cafes to pay €0.40 (about $0.42) for each person "assisting or participating at habitual dancing venues."
    Although the law dates back to the 1950s, it was rarely imposed and re-introduced two years ago. However, it was only recently that the municipality began imposing it on establishments.
    "At first I thought it was a joke," said Nicolas Bucci, artistic director of Bonnefooi cafe, a venue in central Brussels which regularly hosts DJs and live music acts.
    He added: "Then they estimated that we have about 100 habitual dancers per week, and gave us the bill ... They said if we didn't accept their estimate, we had to calculate the number of dancers per night by ourselves and give them the data."
    Bucci, who estimates his annual fee would be around €2,000 (about $2,120), says he would prefer putting that figure towards booking performers and questions the nature of the levy.
    "What is a dancer?" said Bucci, adding "Is throwing your arms in the air dancing? That's an absurd way to calculate a tax."
    But the city's financial department, which oversees the tax, says that these venues require extra expenses to cover "safety, public peace and public order."
    "We can always dance in Brussels," finance alderman Philippe Close wrote in a Facebook post, adding that "No one is supposed to ignore the law."
    Wafaa Hammich, a spokesperson for Close, told CNN: "It wouldn't make a difference if the patrons don't dance -- it applies to places that have regular dance parties."
    "The city of Brussels has been levying this tax since the 1950s and every establishment has to pay. We don't allow Bonnefooi to be different," she said.
    "We had a very nice contact with (Bonnefooi), and they understood what the tax is."
    A total of 40 clubs are paying an average of €160 ($170) per month, Hammich added.
    After the visit from city inspectors, Bucci put up a sign in the club to jokingly warn that dancing was "forbidden." He then took to Facebook to ask his patrons what they thought.

    Somehow I don't feel welcomed here. #instajoke #nodancing #cafe #bonnefooi #relaxitsajoke

    A photo posted by Kylian Campbell (@kyliancampbell) on

    Similar signs appeared in US nightclubs in 1944, when a wartime "cabaret tax" imposed a 30% levy on venues that allowed dancing. It was later reduced to 10% and eventually scrapped in 1965.
    The club isn't refusing to pay, according to Bucci, instead he wants to spark a conversation about the practice.
    "This approach treats nightlife as a burden," he said. "The debate was focused only on the tax, but we wanted to make the point that the administration lacks vision for Brussels' nightlife, which is an asset for the city.
    "These measures could reduce the availability of events in the city by limiting a club's ability to pay artists' fees, but the administration said they'll meet us for further discussion."