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Teen Dance Ordinance

The Teen Dance Ordinance was a controversial Seattle law which severely curtailed the ability of concert and club promoters to hold events for underaged patrons. During its existence from 1985 to 2002, it was routinely criticized for its severity (often labeled "") and its effects on the local music scene and industry. After several unsuccessful attempts to repeal it through lobbying and later court action, it was finally repealed and replaced with the All-ages Dance Ordinance.

From 1977 to 1985, teen dances were unregulated in Seattle. Activities at underage clubs were attracting the attention of the public and a club called The Monastery was particularly notorious for allegations of sexual abuse, child prostitution, and drug and alcohol use. The Monastery was run by George Freeman and was ostensibly a non-profit church of the Universal Life Church, whose dance events were "religious services". During daytime hours it was a youth center that attracted runaways and homeless youth. The Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO) was conceived and passed the City Council on July 29, 1985 to stop abuses at underage clubs. It was amended in 1988. Key among its provisions were:

With these requirements, teen dances outside of schools were virtually banned in the city, as no promoter would undertake the costs involved. For a city the size of Seattle, shows that would only allow 15- to 20-year-olds could not draw a large enough crowd for the event to break even. In addition to the $1 million insurance bond, hiring off-duty officers was a huge expense. Ironically the non-profit exemption meant the ordinance did not apply to the Monastery; it was closed using pre-existing civil abatement laws. In the 15 years of the ordinance, almost no one applied for a promoter's license for youth events, and no one has been prosecuted with it.

While the ordinance only regulated "dances," the distinction between a concert and a dance was not outlined by law, and the police were accused of defining a dance so liberally that the dancing done in the audience of a concert was enough to qualify the entire event as a "dance." All-ages concerts were thus subject to being shut down by police who were vigilant in making sure promoters did not skirt the law. As a result, some nationally touring acts refused to do shows in Seattle because they insisted on all-ages audiences. With Seattle becoming an epicenter for alternative rock and the grunge scene in the early 90's, teens had to go to neighboring cities to attend concerts and dances.

  • Age limits: Underage dances (allowing those under 18 to attend) may only admit patrons age 15-20 unsupervised. Anyone younger would require a parent or guardian chaperone and anyone older 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: Non-profits and schools were exempt from these restrictions.
  • a definition of a dance as an event where dancing is the primary activity intended
  • allowing all-ages events to occur absent any alcohol served
  • 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


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