Valentine's Day dance cancelled because venue is too close to a church
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.
Helen Mann: Shelly, how did you find out the dance wasn't allowed?
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.
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.
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.