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Why dancing is banned on public holidays in Switzerland

Why dancing is banned on public holidays in Switzerland
A sign in German that says 'I will dance when I want'. Photo: DPA
It sounds like something right out of Footloose, but in several Swiss cantons, dancing is banned on certain holidays. Why?

The central premise of the movie Footloose is the idea that there’s a town – the fictional town of Bomont, Utah for those playing at home – where dancing is banned.

The local kids are devastated and something something Kevin Bacon something something, the town sees the error of its ways through the power of dance. 

And while it may seem absurd, for residents of several Swiss cantons, a canton-wide dancing ban is an absolute reality – at least on certain holidays.

READ MORE: The ten strange laws in Switzerland you need to know

In Aargau, Glarus, Graubünden, Uri, Obwalden, Neuchâtel, Solothurn, Thurgau and Appenzell Innerrhoden, dancing is banned on certain Christian holidays, a law justified on the fact that pleasure should be secondary when celebrating the life of Christ. 

In St Gallen, a ban is in place on dancing on certain holidays if more than 500 people are taking part. 

Even if you promise the police to make sure you’re not having fun when kicking your heels up, you’ll still be risking a punishment for dancing. 

For the most part, the prohibition is restricted to Catholic cantons in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, Neuchâtel being one of the exceptions.

Are the police likely to arrest me? 

It’s still well within their power to do so, but reports of people being arrested for dancing are rare. 

What the ban actually means is that organised events and venues where dancing is expected to be a central part are restricted. 

In practice, the ban on jiving means that dance halls and nightclubs are closed on religious holidays.

But why no dancing though? 

Unlike many rules in Switzerland, which can be a case of “it is that way because it has always been that way”, this is not always the case. 

Graubünden for instance put in place the ‘Rest Day Act’ in 1985, which banned dancing on major public holidays. 

Will the rules change? 

Over time, the law has been relaxed somewhat, but despite some criticism, it doesn’t look likely to change anytime soon. 

As reported by The Local Switzerland in 2012, the canton of Neuchâtel relaxed the rule to allow dancing on most holidays by removing the requirement on five specific holidays – but keeping in place the ban on Good Friday and Christmas Day. 

Neuchâtel authorities did however say shaking a leg on religious holidays can no longer be considered “disrespectful”, despite keeping part of the ban intact. 

READ MORE: Swiss canton relaxes holiday boogie ban

Some cantons have however let their dancing shoes do the talking and scrapped the ban. 

In May 2010, Lucerne decided to lift a five-century long ban on dancing on Christian holidays. A heated debate in parliament ended with 62 votes in favour of lifting the ban and 46 against.

To the socialists, the ban seemed “old-fashioned” whereas the Swiss People Party (SVP) felt “359 days of dancing was enough” and the restrictions were justified out of “respect to Christian culture.”

So for the moment, residents of certain cantons will still be restricted by the calendar when wanting to hit the d-floor. 

Where’s Kevin Bacon when you need him? 


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