Dance ‘Til You Drop: New Vintage Photos of Grueling Dance Marathons Are Sad, Funny, and Everything In Between

1473 hour winners_sun co uk

Could you dance for 1,437 hours straight? This couple did—and they weren’t the only ones!

Starting in 1923 and lasting throughout the Great Depression, dance marathons were a major form of popular entertainment in America, with couples dancing weeks and sometimes months away in a desperate bid to win cash prizes, trophies, bragging rights, and a brief shot at fame—not to mention photos.

Last month, new vintage photos from the 1920s, 1930s and more appeared on UK news sites like The Daily Mail and The Sun. Each depict the intense, grueling and sometimes odd nature of these contests. One poor man even tries to shave while dancing! Check them all out below.

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1923 alseep on her feet

A series of couples compete in 1923, at the beginning of the endurance dance craze. Check out the poor lady on the far left who’s asleep on her feet!  Photo source: Mashable/Library of Congress

1925 charleston endurance competition 53 min

These 1925 Charleston dancers only lasted for 53 minutes straight, but they got the orchestra to serve them food, so that’s something, right? 😉 Photo Source: Mashable

asleep together awww 1930

This 1930 couple is nearly down for the count. Photo Source: Mashable

 

1930 annoyed lady

This lady from 1932 looks super annoyed at having to hold up her sleeping partner, and no wonder—this was her third partner, and she’d been dancing for 1120 hours! Photo Source: Mashable 

1934ish chicago giving up

Dammmn, that lady is ASLEEP. I think I can hear the snoring now! 😉 According to Mashable, this  charming couple is Frank and Marie Micholowsky. They participated in a 1931 Chicago marathon. Photo Source: Mashable

1931 bemused man with partner

While the fella above looks resigned, this one looks downright concerned about his lady friend. Another shot from 1931, supposedly. Photo Source: The Sun

they look exhausted yr unknown

Not sure on the year here, but this couple looks exhausted. The crowd of spectators looks pretty large, however.  Photo Source: The Sun

 

1930 anna lawanick man on floor

Women weren’t the only ones to pass out on their partners. In this photo, dance contestant Anna Lawanick tries to support her partner, Jack Ritof, at a 1930 Chicago dance marathon. Photo Source: The Sun

lady in heels partner asleep

He’s asleep on his feet, and she’s still going—in HEELS! Photo Source: The Sun

fella shaving dance marathon

Check out the guy on the left—he’s having a shave! Photo Source: The Sun

that lady looks MAD yr unknown

Not sure on the year here, but that lady on the far left is MAD at the cameraman. Another scene from a Chicago contest. Photo Source: The Sun

dance marathon with cots yr unknown

Not sure on the year here, but you can get a sense of the setup for these contests, with the dancers surrounded by spectators, judges, nurses, and a band—plus the resting cots on the edges of the dance circle, where contestants got 15 minutes to “sleep” or rest before staggering back onto the dance floor. Photo Source: The Sun

15 min cots with crowd

Here are more cots for the 15 minute rest periods, with a packed crowd. Photo Source: The Daily Mail UK

judge monitors dancers yr unknown

If your knees hit the floor during the dance marathon, you were disqualified. Here, a judge crouches down to monitor a couple who seem seconds away from being out of the running. Photo Source: The Sun

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EXTRA! EXTRA!

dance contest ad van winkles

An ad for an endurance dance marathon emphasizes the grueling nature of the “sport,” as well as encouraging the kind of voyeurism that comes so easily to reality TV. Photo Source: Van Winkle

Want to learn more about endurance dance marathons? Try this guest post I wrote about dance marathons, or check out this Daily Mail article, which also features a video of an actual contest. This blog post over at Blondie Cuts a Rug has a bit more history to it, however, and this Van Winkle’s post isn’t bad either.

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About lupachi1927

My name's Megan. I'm a writer with an interest in history. While I might not be a real historian, I'm a very thorough researcher! :) This blog is my place to post about all the interesting historical tidbits I find that can't use in the novel I'm working on, which takes place in Chicago in 1927.
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