Monday, July 11, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dancing in the dark

Mayor Greg Nickels wants to put a little space between dancers and customers at Seattle strip clubs. Gee, mayor, great idea. It was a great idea last year when he ducked it and in years past. But never mind, now he supports it.

A federal lawsuit hangs over City Hall challenging a cozy arrangement that has given a handful of clubs an exclusive monopoly ever since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. If the artificial ban disappears, there is the prospect of new clubs popping up in every vacant restaurant and storefront. The mayor's proposal goes to the matter of the commerce that drives their popularity: tips for lap dances.

Dancers pay clubs to dance, and work for tips. City regulations theoretically prohibit a variety of behaviors, but physical proximity in low light pays the dancers' bills. Enforcement is nearly impossible.

Nickels is proposing — well, nothing very original at all. Other cities in King County and around the country have similar rules: turn up the lights, prohibit direct tipping and separate dancers from patrons by a distance of 4 feet.

The net effect is a steep decline in gross revenues. Customers stay away, dancers leave, clubs close. And new clubs do not open.

The U.S. Supreme Court says nude dancing is protected as free speech. The ancillary flesh trade in the dark recesses of a club is not.

City Hall is long overdue to keep strip clubs at arm's length, and the 4-foot rule is sized right for separating interpretive artists and staunch supporters of the First Amendment.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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