Dance Marathons of the 1930’s
By Iva Bailey
While looking through some old pictures the other day, I came across an old picture postcard of a dance marathon held in the old Century Ballroom near Tacoma. The picture took me back to 1936, the peak of the Great Depression. Now it all sounds pretty weird but then it generated a lot of interest and was inexpensive entertainment. There was a kitty you were expected to drop a coin or two into which was to furnished the prize for the winners.
The couples who were in the dance marathons were usually sponsored by some local business establishment for the advertising it would bring them.
The contestants danced for fifty minutes and then had a ten minute rest period. They didn’t really dance but they had to keep moving or be disqualified. They would take turns sleeping, when one was asleep the other had to hold him up and keep him moving. It looked kind of funny to see a girl with a big, tall guy draped over her shoulders, asleep. Some times they would almost fall. That made it more exciting, the audience would clap, stamp their feet and yell the contestant’s name out to wake him before he was counted out.
It was all very exciting to me at the time and I went as often as I could. My dad thought the people, that would be contestants in such a thing, were crazy and the people who would go to watch them, just as bad. I know now, that he was right.
The contest went on for several weeks and one by one the couples would drop by the wayside. As the numbers of contestants dwindled down, the excitement of the spectators rose. The couple seemed to be walking around in a daze and you could tell it was sheer torture for them to keep going.
I’ll never forget how disappointed I was when it suddenly ended and I wasn’t there to see the last couple fall out.
The old Century Ballroom is gone now but the hours I spent there still remain in my memories.