The DC Wedding Reception Dancing Ban – Explained

Image by Mr.TinDC licensed under Creative Commons.

Here’s an explainer/timeline about DC’s dancing ban at weddings, which has gotten a ton of chatter lately, as I outline the legal rules for the various settings where weddings would be allowed. As you’ll see the dancing ban isn’t really a new ban, but there are still disparities between restaurants and event venues, particularly outdoors.

Weddings in Homes, Backyards, Home Patios, Apt/Condo Building Roof Decks, Etc.

  • Outdoors
    • 10 people max: March 24-June 19, 2020
    • 50 people max: June 19-November 25, 2020
    • 25 people max: November 25, 2020 – March 17, 2021
    • 50 people max: March 17, 2021 – present
  • Indoors
    • 10 people max: March 24-June 19, 2020
    • 50 people max: June 19, 2020 – November 25, 2020
    • 10 people max: November 25, 2020 – present

Dancing has never been banned, and still is not banned in homes, backyards, etc. Standing allowed.

Weddings in Restaurants, Wineries, Breweries

  • Outdoors
    • Not allowed: March 15-May 29, 2020
    • No apparent max: May 29, 2020- present
  • Indoors
    • Not allowed: March 15-June 19, 2020
    • 50% capacity: June 19-December 14, 2020
    • 25% capacity (250 person capacity started December 19, 2020): December 14, 2020 -December 23, 2020
    • Not allowed: December 23, 2020-January 22, 2020
    • 25% Capacity/250 person: January 22, 2020 – current

Dancing has been banned for weddings in restaurants, wineries, breweries etc the whole time during the pandemic. As of May 1, 10 person tables allowed. All required to be seated in socially distant tables. This is not a new rule. Standing not allowed though ABRA has indicated that people can switch tables so long as they don’t take food/drink from one table to the next and/or stand with the food/drink

Weddings in Hotel Ballrooms, Conference Centers, Wedding Venues, Event Centers and other Multipurpose Facilities

  • Outdoors
    • Apparently not allowed until May 1, 2021
    • 25% capacity/250 people max: May 1, 2021-present
  • Indoors
    • Apparently not allowed until May 1, 2021
    • 25% capacity/250 people max: May 1, 2021-present

The fact that weddings were going to be allowed on May 1st was announced on April 5, 2021; but there no mention about dancing/standing, so many assumed there would be no such restrictions. However, the April 26, 2021 order said dancing banned. All required to be seated in socially distant tables. Standing not allowed. Groups of only 6 to a table. All seats must be pre-assigned/reserved prior to an event. Seating assignment charts must be saved for 30 days and must be made available to DC Health within 24 hours upon request. Waiver can be sought for bigger events. See specific rules here

Why Has Dancing Been Banned?

It appears that weddings and other events are now allowed but basically on the same terms that restaurants and bars are allowed to be open. Fox5 story gives DC’s explanation for dancing ban for restaurants as well as weddings/bigger events:

FOX 5 contacted the Mayor’s Office about the no dancing and standing ban at weddings. A spokeswoman said they have it in place as an extra layer of safety to reduce the spread of COVID-19 because when people stand and dance their behavior changes. For example, people are more likely to get close and touch each other. They did not respond to our request for an interview or further information about why the District feels the need to have that in place when neighboring states do not.

Will this Be Enforced?

To the extent that any of these venues have liquor licenses, I would expect the venues to have staff to enforce this. ABRA pre-pandemic fined spots for having dance floors when not authorized, and during pandemic places with dancing and entertainment have been fined repeatedly. Venues don’t want to lose the ability to host these large events going forward.

Other Places that Ban Dancing at Weddings.

Illinois and Michigan similarly ban dance floors at weddings, though there does not appear to be bans on standing.

New Jersey is lifting its ban on dancing at private events such as weddings this week.

Beginning in March, New York state allowed bigger weddings but required COVID-tests/vaccinations for all attendees, and created 36 square foot dance zones (6 feet away from others) which allowed people to dance at their own table with people at their table, but no others. Unlike in DC, ceremonial first dances were allowed with family members. However, NY removed these requirements this week.

Potential Alternatives

I expect this guidance to be adjusted throughout the month and summer; people with weddings scheduled in July/August should realize that the rules will look very different then. Given DC’s stance on standing/dancing in the restaurant realm, I doubt a full-on dance floor will be permitted this month. But I think they should consider soon allowing the dance pods that NY state had and loosening restrictions for private parties were full vaccination is confirmed for all eligible, and negatives tests for everyone else ineligible, particularly if the wedding is of a certain size. For example, smaller weddings have less risk; so a wedding of 50 or less that would be allowed to have dancing at someone’s home should still be allowed to have dancing at a facility.

In addition, it doesn’t make sense to treat event venues differently than restaurants, including restricting tables to 6 instead of 10, and most significantly, restricting outdoor events to 25%/250 people (though order was poorly worded on this front) when there’s no such outdoor capacity for restaurants. It’s as if DC didn’t realize it’s rules never prohibited restaurants from having socially distant weddings since last May.


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