Instead of music inspiring dance, a prohibition on dance is inspiring music at San Tan Flat restaurant. A ruling by a Pinal County hearing officer against the steak house for allowing dancing has inspired three local country music artists to pen political tunes that, as one song states, are a “wake-up call” to the erosion of personal rights.
The hearing officer determined in January that the restaurant owner, Dale Bell, was operating a “dance hall” and would be fined $5,000 for every day a patron dances in the open-air portion of the restaurant. Bell says he doesn’t encourage dancing, but doesn’t feel he should be the “dance police.”
So far no fines have been levied but singer-songwriter Lee Alexander’s Western swing song “You Can’t Dance Outside” inspired some dancing and plenty of applause when performed recently at the restaurant.
Alexander, who performs around the East Valley, said he gets a greater reaction from his San Tan Flat song than any other he performs at the eatery.
“The basic right to be able to dance in a public setting is as fundamental as your right to speak in a public setting,” he said. “You don’t have to have a permit for free speech.”
As Alexander played his song Wednesday night, restaurant patrons gathered around the courtyard to listen and cheer — and a few danced.
“This is satire at its best,” said Gilbert resident Stephanie Bowers, who was visiting San Tan Flat for the first time. “I heard about San Tan Flat from friends, but definitely it being in the news piqued my interest.”
Bowers’ 6-year-old son Zach sat by one of the restaurant’s outdoor campfires as Alexander played, telling his mother he couldn’t dance because he didn’t have $5,000.
“Men and women are dying so people can have the freedoms Pinal County is trying to take away,” Bowers said. “We wanted to support these people who are being persecuted.”
Gilbert resident Nathan Dean, a musician who performs across the state, has played at San Tan Flat for more than a year with his band NQH. His twostep style song called “Saga of San Tan Flat” encourages “plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’,” he said.
“It’s to grind salt in the wound of the county so people get up and dance,” Dean said.
He said he thinks the county’s actions are “ridiculous” — even though it made good material for the song.
“I know that ultimately the main complaint is the noise,” Dean said. “There isn’t a problem with the dancing, but Pinal County is just looking for something.”
Coolidge singer-songwriter Billy Davis also weighed in on the San Tan Flat controversy with a two-step country-western song called “It’s a Crime.”
“The ordinance is violating a basic human right — one of the First Amendment rights which is expression,” he said.
In addition to the songs, the restaurant owner said the case has brought San Tan Flat a great deal of publicity. He received calls from media in a half-dozen states after CNN carried a story. Bell has also sold more than 200 T-shirts with messages including “I danced at San Tan Flat” in the past couple of weeks.
He said servers regularly field questions from patrons who have been following the story in the media.
“It’s becoming water cooler talk,” Bell said. “I always felt, because of the way San Tan flat was built and the atmosphere it created, it would become an institution and people would come in large numbers. I thought that would take 10 to 15 years, but because of the publicity it’s on a fast-track.”
Here are excerpts of three songs written about San Tan Flat:
LEE ALEXANDER’S “YOU CAN’T DANCE OUTSIDE”
The sheriff comes out faithfully with a code enforcer and a deputy But if you play his favorite song he’ll tap his feet and sing along But he can’t dance outside; no he can’t even fake it This used to be the land of liberty But everywhere there’s freedom there’s someone who wants to take it In Arizona it’s Pinal County
NATHAN DEAN’S “SAGA OF SAN TAN FLAT”
Since this dance floor’s not under the roof Dale’s gonna get fined when they get proof People are dancin’ at his establishment Sounds to me like a case of corrupt government So the next time you see me at San Tan Flat, I’ll be sitting real still with my boy in my lap till the Pinal County courts finally get it right and let the people of San Tan dance under the stars at night
BILLY DAVIS’ “IT’S A CRIME”
It’s a crying shame for bands that play cause the whole point of live music is for people to dance and drink and have a good time till Monday rolls around But you can’t dance at San Tan Flat cause the county shut ‘em down. Why don’t you pull the wings off the eagle Why don’t you let Old Glory fall Why don’t you take our Constitution and roll it up into a ball Cause when you say we can’t dance, Lord, that’s just a crime And you’re the ones who should be paying the fine