Over the last decade or so, I’ve attended more than my fair share of hearings of both the Maui County Liquor Commission and the Liquor Control Board of Adjudication. In that time, a lot of controversial issues have come up–like why the LC enforces noise regulations and punishes establishments for booking acts that use profanity onstage–but nothing seemed so senseless as its ambiguous restrictions on bars and restaurants that want to have dancing. Seriously, it’s right out of Footloose–a county of Maui department actually pays officers to patrol liquor licensees and make sure patrons aren’t dancing where it’s not permitted.
For much of that time, Jiva Jive (formerly know as Anthony Simmons) and the organization Maui Dance Advocates (Mauidanceadvocates.com) have been trying to change that. He and his friends have lobbied the county and the state and have even gone to court. Now they’re trying to get a bill passed that would liberalize counties across Hawaii that wish to regulate dancing.
The bill was introduced last year, and it won some support, but it’s stalled now. In fact, time may be running out. To find out more, I talked with him about what he and the organization is up against:
MAUITIME: I’ve seen you at many LC hearings in the past, speaking up. I’ve even seen you draw parallels in the past between the county’s restrictions on dancing and the missionaries war against the hula in the 19th century.
JIVA JIVE: In 1830, Hula was forbidden in public in Hawaii. In 1851, public hula performances became regulated through a licensing system with a heavy fine paid for each performance. At his 1885 birthday at Iolani Palace, King Kalakaua promoted the preservation of hula, declaring, “Hula is the language of the heart and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.”
You’ve been lobbying the county and state to change the dancing regulations for about eight years. What got you into this?
My band, The Eazy, used to play at Neptunes, which is now Ambrosia. The Department of Liquor Control didn’t like the people who owned Neptunes, and they couldn’t have a dance floor. So we played there, and then one time there were about 12 people there. A guy was dancing, so the bouncer came up to them and told him to stop. He kept dancing, so the bouncer came up to them a second time. When the bouncer went up to him a third time, he put him in headlock and threw him out.
Yeah, I’ve heard stories like that.
I told my friend Romoda Anand, who has cerebral palsy and worked with me on this, that dancing was illegal here. He didn’t believe me, so we went online to the county liquor rules and I showed him. “That’s not right,” he said.
He didn’t believe you.
No. But right now, dancing is illegal in places that sell alcohol unless they have direct permission from the Maui County Department of Liquor Control. This means that if you’re at a restaurant or any gathering that’s selling alcohol, you can’t just move some tables and start dancing. Even if your auntie wants to perform a hula, the establishment is required to stop her.
So what did you do?
We went to the Liquor Control department, which is in the Trask Building in Wailuku. They told us that we couldn’t dance unless the establishment had a permit. Then we went before the Liquor Commission and asked how they define dancing, but they really didn’t have an answer for us.
We got a letter about a week later that quoted from Webster’s dictionary. The definition that they gave was “to move the body, in rhythm, especially the feet, ordinarily to music.”
The LC has always had trouble with this question of what exactly constitutes dancing.
At one meeting, Director Frank Silva even said, “I know when I see it.”
I remember that meeting. How could I forget him getting philosophical and using the same phrase that’s been used to describe calculus and pornography?
We love dance floors, but the LC has no definition for dancing, so snapping your fingers, tapping your toe or even bobbing your head to the music in your seat is a violation.
I also recall the County Council not even getting anywhere when trying to get dancing defined.
It was April 23, 2012, during the Liquor Control’s budget committee hearing. Council member Gladys Baisa asked Silva twice if you could dance while sitting. The first time he ignored the question. The second time, when she asked later in the meeting, he said, “it depends on which way you move first.”
So basically dancing is whatever the LC says it is.
We’ve gotten dancing put on the agenda of the LC three times, only to be berated and ridiculed. One of our members was even told to find another island.
Yeah, I remember that, too.
Well, after that [attorney] Lance Collins got off the [Adjudication] Board, he took our case pro bono and we asked for a Declaratory Rule. They denied that as well. We also went to court twice, but lost because of jurisdiction. It’s an administrative law, not a civil law. The LC isn’t telling us that we can’t dance, but their rules state that an establishment can’t allow dancing without a permitted dance floor.
We’ve written about Maui Dance Advocates a lot. What about other media?
I had an interview with Hawaii Public Radio this morning. But before our first court date, we went to The Maui News to try to get coverage. The former City Editor, Ed Tanji, told us, “No, this is not news. Once Liquor Control decides something, it’s already done. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
Now that’s depressing.
The Liquor Control Department has been on Maui since 1906, since before Prohibition. They have all the power–they make their own budget. The county spends about $2.8 million on Liquor Control, half of which is wages and salaries.
Still, you kept on it, and decided to go the route of legislation.
We’re in the fifth year now on that. Last year we introduced SB 464, which “Requires county liquor commissions that choose to regulate dancing to adopt or amend rules regarding limitations on dancing.” It makes them define the rules they have. I like how the Senate defined it–any county that chooses to regulate dancing has to abide by it [SB 464].
Where does the bill stand now?
It’s stalled. SB 464 got co-introduced by 17 of the 25 state senators. It passed its first reading in the House on Mar. 7, 2013, and is currently referred to the EDB [Economic Development and Business] and CPC/JUD [Consumer Protection and Commerce/Judiciary] committees.
How long does the bill have?
I was told that we have until Mar. 20 or it dies again. Representative Angus McKelvey [D–West Maui], the chairman of the CPC Committee, has always been a friend of Maui Dance Advocates. He’s a fan of the bill, but it has to get through the EDB Committee first, and that’s chaired by Clift Tsuji [D–Hilo].
Why is it stalled now?
It’s just not a high enough priority. And he’s [Tsuji’s] from the Big Island, where this is not so much an issue.
So what are you looking for?
We need people to let the legislators know that we want SB 464 scheduled to be heard in the EBD Committee. Representative Tsuji’s office phone number is 808-586-6420 and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if that happens?
Even it does work, there will be more meetings. It’ll take another year to implement it.
Cover design: Darris Hurst
Cover photo: Sean M. Hower