The Deadly Dance Marathons of the 1920s -1930s.

On 31 March, 1923, the first U.S. dance marathon ended in New York City but began a strange fad with sometimes fatal consequences!
Less than a decade later, in 1932, a young woman dropped dead after dancing non-stop for 48 hours in a dance marathon!
And when the people raided a ballroom during a Marathon World Championship, the promoters simple transferred the contestants, who were still dancing, into a van.
From there they were taken onto a sloop, a small sailing ship, which sailed out of territorial waters and so beyond the area of police control. The plan worked perfectly, until the contestants got seasick.


Marathon dancing competitions brilliantly depicted in the movie “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”, which were the rage in the 1930’s, were more than just tiring, and often torturous, dance sessions.
Contestants had their teeth extracted during these marathons; others got married. A few even went mad!
If you are wondering why so many people bothered to take part in these competitions, it is because the prizes were simple too good to resist – the top prize was as much as $2,000!
You may not think that large enough a sum to entice thousands of people to sacrifice sleep and food for days on end.
But remember, 60 years ago, $2,000 was a lot of money. Plus, these marathons took place during the period when times were hard.
To win or survive almost to the end of a marathon usually meant that one could become an instant celebrity. The rules of these seemingly endless dancing sessions were strict: out of every hour, contestants had to spend 45 minutes in constant motion.
Only 15 minutes were allowed for rest (not sleep), first aid and toilet needs. And this grueling schedule went on for 24 hours a day.
It was pure entertainment for the large audience which often turned up to watch. Many brought presents for their favorite contestants.
Other placed bets on the final outcome. And there were some who simple enjoyed watching the judges mercilessly torture the weaker contestants by speeding the music and flicking with towels at their swollen legs.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest marathon lasted over 30 weeks; however, in 1933, this form of ‘entertainment’ was banned in the USA.
via Dance Until You Drop! – Cracked History.

2 thoughts on “The Deadly Dance Marathons of the 1920s -1930s.

  1. These marathons came into their own during the Depression, particularly, because of the prizes; but they also had their gladiatorial/entertainment aspect – audiences would go along to see whether such-and-such would win, or watch to see who fell out first. I suppose we have our equivalent today, in this last sense, in “reality TV”.


    • Thanks Matthew, A very good summing up. If you get a chance catch up with a 1968 movie “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” with Jane Fonda and Michael Sarazin. It’s all about the brutality of marathon dancing in the 1920s and 1930s.
      Regards, Rod


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