Dance Marathons By Stroik, Adrienne
In a modernizing society undergoing rapidly increasing mechanization, industrialization, urbanization, commercialism, and consumerism, the dance marathons of the 1920s and 1930s reflected social developments of the era. Initially, competing dancers (working-class women in particular) would dance with and exhaust multiple partners over the course of a day or two. This practice altered the purpose of social dancing from being about the pleasure of the couple to being about the achievements of the individual. These women demonstrated their physical abilities through a leisure endeavor at a time when Prohibition sought to control embodied leisure activities. Later, dance marathons involved male–female couples dancing in competition with other couples. During the Great Depression, dance marathons functioned as a source of financial and symbolic opportunity for contestants and audiences. While dance marathons rewarded endurance, suffering, and survival, they also offered opportunities for financial gain (winners received cash prizes). What’s more, the competing dancers’ struggle to continue dancing mirrored the widespread struggle to survive everyday life. Dance marathons created local and national celebrities as well, thus generating opportunities for promoters to earn profits by commercializing and theatricalizing this new leisure activity. Dance marathons thrived until the U.S. economy began to recover during and after World War II.