Oregon dance studio cited for Nutcracker performance joins existing lawsuit against public health department

OREGON, Wis. — An Oregon dance studio has joined an existing lawsuit against Public Health Madison & Dane County days after the agency cited the studio for violating mass gathering limits.

Last month, PHMDC cited A Leap Above Dance studio 119 times for violating mass gathering limits during the studio’s production of the Nutcracker on Dec. 13.

A complaint, filed by public health, alleges that 119 people were somehow involved or in attendance of this performance, which violated Emergency Order #10, the public health order that was in place at that time.

The order banned mass gatherings of any size, defining a mass gathering as “a planned event with a large number of individuals in attendance, such as a concert, festival, meeting, training, conference, performance, show or sporting event.”

A Leap Above has since become a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed last month by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty on behalf of two Dane County parents with children active in local sporting leagues.

The lawsuit challenges the limits placed on sports and indoor gathering bans in Dane County, which public health and community leaders say are in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. It also questions PHMDC’s authority to issue this type of order without approval from the Dane County Board.

An attorney for WILL claims that A Leap Above Dance only let small groups of dancers in at a time for the Nutcracker performance, not all at once. The attorney also said the studio was allowed to do the production under this order, because the recital was a youth event and not a sport.

“This was not a performance in any way. There was no audience, and parents were not even allowed inside. The studio allowed dancers in small groups — mostly groups of 6 to 8 who were masked the entire time, were as socially distant as possible, and left before the next group rotated in. This activity complied with the order, which allowed groups of up to 15 people for group programs,” said Luke Berg, an attorney for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

Public Health’s complaint does not indicate this was the case.

“We are confident in our order and the statutory authority behind it,” said Madison Assistant City Attorney Marci Paulsen.

Paulsen said public health officials looked at photos the business posted on Facebook as part of their investigation. She also previously told News 3 Now that the health department called the dance studio, warning it could not hold the event.

WILL’s attorney also said the group is fighting the order because it is unclear and inconsistent and clarification was needed to determine which restrictions applied to A Leap Above Dance under Emergency Order #10.

A Leap Above Dance’s owner, Natalie Nemeckay, said she feels unfairly targeted and her priority is the kids who attend her studio.

The lawsuit was originally filed by WILL with the Wisconsin Supreme Court this past November. The court ruled 4-3 against the first lawsuit, with Justice Brian Hagedorn saying the case did not belong in the Supreme Court but that the arguments had merit.

A motion hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for March 3.