Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Dance Marathons

After seeing Arthur Pita's The World's Greatest Show, I felt inspired to do some research into dance marathons. Taking place in 1920s and 1930s America, competitors would dance for 45 minutes of every hour, day and night, for weeks and months at a time. Here are some interesting facts about dance marathons:
1. The last standing couple would win a cash prize, typically of a few hundred dollars. To give a means of comparison, $1000 in 1930 is worth approximately £11,500 today. Marathon promoters made a much greater profit.
2. Contestants tied scarves and other items of clothing around each other, so that one person could sleep and be dragged while the other continued moving.

3. For an entrance fee, locals could watch competitors dancing. In fact, cinema owners opposed dance marathons because people attended them rather than buying movie tickets.

A dance marathon in 1923
4. Every American city with a population of 50,000+ people hosted a dance marathon.
5. Participants were disqualified if their knees touched the floor.
6. Dance marathons gave competitors a roof and regular meals as well as the hope of winning. Food was served 12 times a day and included oatmeal, eggs and oranges. Some competitors even gained weight during the dance marathons, in spite of the heavy exercise.
7. Couples could gain a small income through sponsorship if they wore a company's name while competing.
8. In 1928, a woman in Seattle attempted suicide after coming fifth in a dance marathon.
9. Professional dancers often competed, and marathons were sometimes fixed so that they would win.
10. Dance marathons included regular 'endurance events' such as sprinting and 'grinds', both to attract spectators and to eliminate competitors. 'Grinds' involved dancing without rest periods.
11. Competitors who wouldn't wake up at the end of the 15 minute rest period were slapped or dunked in ice water.
12. Competitors performed choreographed routines and songs to entertain audience members, who would throw coins in appreciation.
13. Dance marathons employed an estimated 20,000 people in jobs including judges, promoters, nurses and professional competitors.
14. The longest recorded dance marathon lasted more than 5000 hours (seven months) between August 1930 and April 1931. Winners Mike Ritof and Edith Boudreaux gained $2000 dollars in prize money.
15. Dance marathons were outlawed in 1937.
More information about dance marathons can be found here.

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