Fans of the movie Footloose will undoubtedly remember the iconic scene, in which the protagonist Ren McCormack gives a speech to the town council in an effort to repeal the town’s anti-dance laws. In an attempt to disprove the traditional conception that modern dance is unholy and a catalyst for unscrupulous behavior, McCormack acknowledges all of the good that is dance.
So, what does a cheesy movie from the 80s have to do with Idaho’s history? The answer: quite a lot. The fictional town Bomont did not stand alone in its restriction of dance. Idaho too had its fair share of regulations that limited when, where, and what kind of dancing was acceptable. For example, in 1914, Pocatello passed a city ordinance that strictly barred the tango, the turkey trot, and all other peculiar dances. This law was not the only regulation placed on dancing. By Idaho law, a license secured from the county commissioners was required for the operation of public dance halls. Additionally, Idaho required dance-hall owners to adopt and post reasonable regulations for the healthful and orderly conduct of the halls. If these posted regulations were violated, the patron that made the violation could be issued a misdemeanor. Idaho additionally had prohibited dancing on Sundays.
The laws that regulated dance in Idaho however were not met without resistance. In an article published in the Idaho Republican in 1915 in part about the regulations that prohibited modern dance, it was noted that “there seems to be a mania prevailing among legislative bodies in these times for regulating every overt human act of human life by statute.”