As It Happens

Valentine's Day dance cancelled because venue is too close to a church

Organizers of a Valentine's Day dance had to cancel their event after social media users pointed out a city ordinance that prohibits dancing within 500 feet of a church.
Shelly Rivera spruced up Rosie LaVon's Marketplace for a Valentine's Day dance, only to find out an old city ordinance prohibits any dancing at the venue due to its proximity to a church. (Shelly Rivera)

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It sounds like a remake of the movie Footloose.

In the small town of Henryetta, Okla., a Valentine's Day dance was cancelled because of a little-known city ordinance. The 38-year-old law prohibits any dancing within 500 feet (152 metres) of a church.

Shelly Rivera is one of the organizers of the dance and co-owner of Rosie LaVon's Marketplace, a vintage shop and event space. Her proposed venue stands 300 feet (91 metres) from a church.

Rosie LaVon's Marketplace, a vintage shop and event space, is the would-be venue. (Shelly Rivera)

Helen Mann: Shelly, how did you find out the dance wasn't allowed?

Joni Insabella and Shelly Rivera. (Shelly Rivera )
Shelly Rivera: I was born and raised here. It was one of those old antique laws that had never been enforced in 40 years. City Hall is across the street from our building and business. It's even actually closer to the church. They have, for years and years, had many dances in the civic centre and nobody had complained. So we felt that we were not doing anything wrong in having our Valentine's Day dance. The chamber was gracious enough to post [the event] from our site onto their site — and it exploded. Joni [Rosie LaVon's Marketplace co-owner] started being verbally attacked, cyberbullied online. It's a lady that used to live here years ago and she no longer lives here.

HM: What's her complaint?

SR: That we are breaking the law. Joni's husband is our local city attorney. So she took the stance that we were being given preferential treatment because of who he was. He is an officer of the court. It is a violation of our city ordinance. So because there was an opposition to the dance, he advises us to cancel the dance, because his integrity was being attacked on Facebook.

The 1979 ordinance. (Shelly Rivera)

HM: But before this, people were occasionally holding dances, as you said, despite this ordinance? …

SR: Everywhere. Even our school has a prom every year. Since I can remember, the prom is being held ... not even a few feet away. But it's inside the cafeteria, so technically, that's illegal.

HM: Is that going to be under threat this year?

SR: Well, that's why we're trying to go through the proper channels to get that ordinance abolished.

HM: What does the church say? Have you spoken to people there?

SR: I have spoken to one of my friends — it's his church. He is just flabbergasted. Of course, he doesn't participate in dancing. They haven't had any issues or problems with us whatsoever. Many of the church members have come over and looked in our shop and purchased things. They've been excited that a building this close to them is being worked on. We do have a community that is very small. We don't have a movie theatre. We don't even have a dance school or anything like that. The only thing we have is sports. Our community is very sports-driven and rodeo-driven. This was just something to do for the arts.

The flyer for the Valentine's Day dance. (Shelly Rivera)

HM: Do you remember when this ordinance was passed?

SR: I believe I was 10 when all this happened. There was someone who wanted to open up a discotheque right on Main Street. We are in the Bible Belt and our community is very small. We do have many, many, many churches. Many churches. So the way the ordinance was written, you almost couldn't go anywhere in town and not be close to a church. So it doesn't say you can't dance — but you can't dance close to a school or a church.

HM: All right. So what about the dance? Is it gone for sure? You're not going to move it somewhere else?

SR: We're not going to move it. We are going to try to go through the proper channels of working with our city officials. We do not encourage law-breaking. We've been called outlaws and rebels. We've been called all kinds of names. At first, we took it in jest, in the beginning. But the cyberbullying and the private messages on Facebook to Joni have been very vicious.

HM: So what are your plans for Valentine's Day now?

SR: I guess I'll just sit home alone, again.

HM: Maybe watch Footloose?

SR: I just might, you know.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Shelly Rivera.


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