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Strip Club Owners Claim Lap Dances Are Classic 'American Theater'

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Lap dances at strip clubs are part of the grand tradition of American theater: that was the argument made Tuesday by attorneys for three gentleman's clubs in Philadelphia. They're fighting the mayor's plan to apply the city's amusement tax to lap dances.

Attorneys for Delilah's, Club Risque and Cheerleaders argued before the Tax Review Board that the amusement tax specifically exempts contemporary American theater, and lap dances, they said, are no different than theater.

"American contemporary theater has lots of exotic type things, sexually provocative things, a great deal of nakedness in American contemporary theater, and are frankly indistinguishable from what takes place at a gentlemen's club," Attorney George Bochetto said. "There are many plays on Broadway which have nudity, which have contact with the patrons, which are designed for sexual arousal, which are American contemporary theater."

Bochetto called as a witness Katherine Profeta. She is a professor of contemporary theater from Queen's college in New York. Profeta -- who visited all three clubs in May -- testified that the dancers are performers because they play a character, and because their dances require skill, "grace and balance" and "virtuosity." In Profeta's words, "You can't just get up there and move around."

"Professor Profeta clearly demonstrated that the type of entertainment that takes place in these establishments is part of American contemporary theater, and therefore is not subject to this tax," said Bochetto.

Profeto also said contemporary theater involves contact between the audience and performers, and that just because a strip club patron becomes aroused does not remove it from the realm of contemporary theater. Profeto also compared as "painful" the high heels usually worn by the club dancers to toe shoes worn by ballet dancers. "But toe shoes make you bleed," countered the attorney for the Administration, Marissa O'Connell. O'Connell argued that lap dances should be subject to the amusement tax because patrons are charged for them above and beyond the entrance fee.

Delilah's, represented by attorney Stephen Howard, is being assessed more than $630,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties for lap dances. Club Risque and Cheerleaders, represented by Bochetto, face bills totaling nearly $900,000.

The hearing continues Thursday.

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