Yes, There Was a Dancing Law in Fort Smith

On the decision to strip this peculiar clause from Fort Smith’s municipal code.

WHEN DWIGHT YOAKAM came through Fort Smith on a Sunday late last year, it was a crime. Or at least—had there been any shaking, bobbing, grooving, twisting, jitterbugging, swinging or two-stepping—a finable offense. Turns out, until just about a month and a half ago, when the local board of directors was alerted to a peculiar clause in Fort Smith’s municipal code—specifically, that “it shall be unlawful for any person to operate a public dance hall on Sunday, or to operate any other place in which dancing is engaged in on Sunday”—any such rocking out might’ve been looked upon quite unkindly by the law.

Like so many Arkansas legal curiosities—for example, that it’s verboten to sound a car horn after 9 p.m. at any place that serves cold drinks and sandwiches, or that a player can’t win more than 25 free games from a pinball machine in Arkansas—the law likely hasn’t been enforced much since it was passed in 1953. But as City Director Andre Good said, the decision to strip the clause from the code was more to make a point about the laws themselves, the importance of reviewing long-antiquated ordinances and policies. Which is all well and good, though we’d still prefer our pinball-playing to be unregulated.

Editor’s note: We’d highly recommend reading “Virtually Legal: Or Don’t Believe Everything You See on the Internet!”—a 2007 article by Lorraine Lorne, then assistant director of the University of Arkansas’ Young Law Library, that debunks many of the widely quoted weird laws that have long floated around the web. Because while a few might have some validity, even a cursory Google search reveals that the vast majority have little to no grounding in fact. Of these, our personal favorite: “In Upper Osbourne, Arkansas, it’s a misdemeanor to detonate a nuclear device without the express written consent of Major League Baseball.” This might disappoint residents of “Upper Osbourne”—if only the place existed.