Dance Marathon Craze

Dance marathons were a popular craze during the 20s and 30s and a way to win some cash during the depression.
Dance marathons were a popular craze during the 20’s and 30’s and a way to win some cash during the economic crisis of the great depression.

Alma Cummings started the dance marathon craze after outlasting six partners in 1923.  Spectators were charged admission and the winners would receive a cash prize.

The marathons would become grueling tests of endurance for the participants trying to outlast the other couples. Attendants at the scene would try to keep the contestants awake by dabbing wet towels on their faces.

The contestants would be allowed a 15 minute break every hour. The contests sometimes would last for days, weeks and even months and the craze was memorialized in the movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?.

They were not required to dance continuously but had to be in a dancing position to keep from being disqualified. There has been reports of the marathons being fixed by the promoters but I can’t see how they could prevent a local from winning the contest if they had the power to stay awake longer than the ones being in on the fix.

The world record for continuous dancing is held by June Hovick who went on to be known as June Havoc the actress. She and her partner danced for 3400 consecutive hours and collecting a whopping $40 for their efforts.

A couple could earn $20 to $30 a week just for dancing, plus were fed eight meals a day, ostensibly to keep their energy levels high, when they were exhausted from the dance marathons. 

States began outlawing the marathons probably mostly for health reasons. Half of the states had outlawed them by the mid 1930’s.

Eventually the marathon dances were outlawed in most states. The dances had become a cheap spectator sport for people who couldn’t afford more expensive forms of entertainment.

Some of the dancers died as they struggled to outlast their opponents. Shady promoters were cheating the contestants by bring in professional marathon dancers who had the art of staying awake to a science.

This is one craze that most people were glad to see go after they realized it was for the most part a scam by greedy promoters to line their pockets will ill-gotten cash.

This is a video of a dance marathon that has been going on for five months. The man being interviewed has to wake up his partner and she asks what month it is.

This video looks more realistic and probably is a bona fide video from the dance marathon days.

Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

One thought on “Dance Marathon Craze”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s