Teen Dance Ordinance

The Seattle community battled over the Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO) for almost two decades. From its inception in 1985, the City's controversial law passed severe restrictions on local venues which limited the ability of underage patrons to attend concerts, which had a negative impact on local musicians and the local music industry. While early attempts to repeal or replace the law were unsuccessful, in 2002 the Seattle City Council approved the All-Ages Dance Ordinance which replaced the TDO.

Prior to the TDO, a similar law was enacted based on a recommendation from Seattle's Chief of Police. On July 19, 1967, Ordinance 95958 was signed into law by Mayor J.D. (Dorm) Braman regulating teenage dances, establishing a Teen-Age Dance Advisory Board, and providing for the issuance of permits for venues hosting related events. In late 1970, the Rainier-Beacon Junior Chamber of Commerce petitioned for an amendment "to permit longer hours for such dances on New Year's Eve." Overall, the ordinance was fairly vague and was not strictly enforced.

Between 1977 and 1985, teen dances and musical events were largely unregulated in Seattle. The Music and Youth Task Force report from May 5, 2000, stated, "In the early 1980s, Seattle youth had access to a wide array of teen music venues, as clubs like Skoochies, Club Mecca, and Club Broadway provided thriving weekend hangouts throughout the City. The safety of Seattle's dance clubs was called into question in 1985 when The Monastery (a church that had been running dance events in Seattle since 1977) was shut down amidst accusations of drug use, sexual abuse, and underage drinking" (Music and Youth Task Force: Report to City Council and the Mayor, 2000). Because of this experience, the City decided to regulate teen dances, and the Teen Dance Ordinance (Ordinance 112373) was passed by the Seattle City Council on July 29, 1985. It was amended in 1988 by Ordinance 113826.

TDO provisions included:

  • Age limits: Underage dances (allowing those under 18 to attend) could only admit patrons ages 15-20 unsupervised. Anyone younger than 15 would require a parent or guardian chaperone, and anyone older than 20 would need to be accompanying a youth under 18.
  • Security requirement: Two off-duty police officers were required on premises, with one off-duty officer outside to patrol the area.
  • Insurance: $1,000,000 in liability insurance was required.
  • Exemptions: Nonprofits and schools were exempt from these restrictions.

These requirements significantly reduced opportunities for teens to attend dances or concerts outside of school due to the liability and cost required for promoters, which led to reduced attendance and profits for local bands and venues and, in turn, caused bands to stop booking shows in Seattle. The vague language in the law's definition of what constituted a "dance" led to confusion. Critics believed that the police overstepped with their interpretation of a concert with a dancing crowd as a "dance," which was regularly cited when they shut down such events.

TDO proponents believed that the ordinance would protect young patrons from predators and prevented underage drug and alcohol use. Opponents argued that the law crippled the inclusivity of the Seattle art and music scene, and encouraged teens to travel elsewhere in the state to attend shows (where drugs, alcohol, and predators might be present).

Two local organizations were created with the purpose of repealing the TDO:

  • JAMPAC, a musicians' and promoters' political action committee founded by Krist Novoselic of Nirvana
  • The All Ages Music Organization

The TDO's limits on youth access to music and dance led to the October 26, 1998 passage of Resolution 29855, creating a Music and Youth Task Force to advise the City Council and the Mayor on options for revising the law. Members of the task force were appointed in February 1999 and included community stakeholders, activists, musicians, and youth consultants. The group's mission was to identify the problems preventing youth access to music and to outline potential solutions, both legislative and non-legislative. The Music and Youth Task Force convened fourteen times over a period of fourteen months. The group also divided into subcommittees, which met more frequently.

In 2000, a new ordinance proposed to replace the TDO was passed by the Seattle City Council, but was quickly vetoed by Mayor Paul Schell. The veto led JAMPAC to file a suit against the City, which claimed that the TDO's virtual outlawing of dances infringed on the First Amendment right to free expression. JAMPAC lost the suit in May 2002, with a judge finding there was no infringement and that the matter was a political one for the Seattle City Council to determine. However, during the legal proceedings, Mayor Schell was voted out of office. New mayor Greg Nickels approved of the changes and resubmitted the ordinance to Council for consideration.

Meanwhile, the TDO also led to new opportunities to fund community-based organizations catering specifically to an underage crowd to cultivate a love for music and art, with the Vera Project as the prime example. The Vera Project is a Seattle nonprofit founded in 2001 in direct response to the "dire lack of all-ages popular music concerts" resulting from the TDO. "Vera's first two years were spent producing all-ages concerts in rented halls with the support of the music industry, local foundations, the City of Seattle, and hundreds of volunteers." (Pat Kearney, "Viva Vera," The Stranger, Jan. 25, 2001) In December 2000, City Council Member Richard Conlin convinced the rest of Council to support the Vera Project, despite the possibility of the mayor's veto, securing $25,000 for the organization. On January 27, 2001, the Vera Project used the money to open Seattle's first city-funded all-ages venue, Local 46.

The new All-Ages Dance Ordinance (AADO), written by members of the Music and Youth Task Force, eased restrictions on youth events. Provisions included:

  • a clear definition of a dance as "an event where dancing is the primary activity intended allowing all-ages events to occur absent any alcohol served"
  • a security adjustment, requiring only "the requesting of off-duty officers at an event, to be granted by the Seattle Police Guild"
  • elimination of the $1 million insurance requirement

The revised law, Ordinance 120889, passed the Seattle City Council (6-2) on August 12, 2002.

Local musicians spoke at a public hearing on Music and Youth Issues on September 14, 2000, and again at a council committee meeting on May 28, 2002. Listen to clips of the 2000 hearing:

The entire meeting can be heard in Digital Collections. (Event 13221, Seattle City Council Audio Recordings, Record Series 4601-03)

Additional Audio

  • Committee Meeting, Committee of Whole, September 3, 1968 (Event 85, Record Series 4601-03)
  • Public Hearing, Public Safety Committee, July 9, 1985 (Event 7617, Record Series 4601-03)
  • Committee Meeting, Public Safety Committee, January 26, 1988 (Event 7618, Record Series 4601-03)
  • Public Forum, Seattle City Council, May 13, 2002 (Event 8044, Record Series 4601-03)
  • Neighborhoods, Arts & Civil Rights Committee, May 28, 2002 (Event 13222, Record Series 4601-03)

Related Materials Available in SMA Digital Collections:

  • Teen Dance Ordinance flyer, 2000 (Item 4684_02_48_06_001, Record Series 4684-02: Peter Steinbrueck Subject Files)
  • Teen Dance Ordinance, May 2000 (Item 5955, Record Series 4650-12: Nick Licata Moving Image Collection). A documentary providing an overview of the Teen Dance Ordinance and Music and Youth Task Force, interviews with local promoters and musicians, City Councilmembers and teens about the law's impact on the music scene in Seattle. Interviewees include Nick Licata, Jan Drago, Jim Compton, and Richard J. McIver.
  • Seattle City Council Public Forum: "Protect Our Children," May 13, 2002 (Item 7021, Record Series 3902-01: Seattle Channel Moving Image Collection). On May 13, 2002, Councilmember Margaret Pageler sponsored a Community Forum titled "Protect Our Children" held at Capitol Hill's Miller Community Center. Voices of support and opposition were heard.
  • Teen Dance Ordinance sticker, circa 2000 (Item 9900_01_001_004_006, Record Series 9900-01: Ephemera)
  • Vera Project strategic plan, 2002-2006 (Item 2101_03_04_16_001, Record Series  2101-03: Office of Film and Music Records)

Other Resources

  • Mark Sidran Subject Files, Record Series 4400-02 (Box 32, Folders 2-4)
  • Legislative Department Central Staff Analysts' Working Files, Record Series 4603-01 (Box 242, Folders 8-12; Box 629, Folder 35)
  • Councilmember Jim Compton Subject Files, Record Series 4620-02 (Box 14, Folder 6)
  • Councilmember Richard Conlin Subject Files, Record Series 4621-02 (Box 12, Folders 14-19; Box 13, Folders 1-3, 17; Box 21, Folder 10)
  • Councilmember Sue Donaldson Subject Files, Record Series 4623-02 (Box 90, Folder 14)
  • Councilmember Nick Licata Subject Files, Record Series 4650-02 (Box 99, Folders 3, 5-14; Box 100, Folders 1-2, 4-7; Box 104, Folders 13-14; Box 119, Folders 7-8)
  • Councilmember Richard McIver Subject Files, Record Series 4654-02 (Box 11, Folder 7)
  • Councilmember Judy Nicastro Subject Files, Record Series 4661-02 (Boxes 16-18; Box 29, Folders 16-20)
  • Councilmember Margaret Pageler Subject Files, Record Series 4667-02 (Box 92, Folders 6-8; Box 100, Folder 11; Box 103, Folders 4, 10-12; Box 104, Folders 4, 10-12; Box 104, Folders 1-2; Box 117, Folder 11)
  • Councilmember Norm Rice Subject Files, Record Series 4674-02 (Box 30, Folder 4)
  • Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck Subject Files, Record Series 4684-02 (Box 32, Folders 9-10; Box 33, Folder 13; Box 48, Folders 6-7; Box 59, Folders 16-17; Box 74, Folder 1)
  • Councilmember Heidi Wills Subject Files, Record Series 4695-02 (Box 1, Folder 4)

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
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