Iowa Court to Decide if Stripping is Art

Tom Hymes
DES MOINES, Iowa — A local Iowa court case could define once and for all whether nude dancing in public is an art form or a far more restrictive form of commercial expression.

At stake is a provision in a public indecency exposure law that is being challenged by the small town of Hamburg, home to a local sensual entertainment theater called Shotgun Geniez, billed as "A Magical Place to Relax and See Mystical Performances Before Your Eyes."

In July, the owner of the club was cited after a 17-year old niece of the local sheriff reportedly decided to climb on a stage in the theater and take her clothes off.

While the theater bans anyone under 18 from entering the club, apparently that night a group of girls sneaked the minor in, according to Michael Murphy, the owner's attorney.

"While she was there, she felt like dancing so she got up and danced on the stage and then she took her clothes off. Trouble with that is she's the sheriff's niece," he said.

The club was charged with violating Iowa's public indecency law, and is arguing that the law does not apply to a "theater, concert hall, art center, museum, or similar establishments" devoted to the arts or theatrical performances, and the fact that a young woman was able to thwart security should not impact the club's protection under the provision.

Fremont County Attorney Margaret Johnson predictably prefers to focus on the fact that an underage girl illegally danced naked at the club.

"Are you saying that minors can't be protected? Can a group of 12-year-olds come down and go in and dance nude and it's OK? I don't think that's what the Legislature had in mind when it made those additional provisions," Johnson said.

During the one-day trial, the defense pointed to a similar 1998 case in which another club was found not guilty after being under the public indecent exposure law for allowing nude dancing.

According to an AP story last week, while the case pending before the Fremont County judge only impacts Shotgun Geniez, the case could eventually make its way to the state's high court, where the outcome could affect dozens of other clubs in the state.