It’s 1933, the Depression grips the country but in the dancehalls south of Boston are filled with music and dancing. Marathon dancing. For your viewing pleasure: a small album documenting some of the dancers who competed in some Massachusetts walkathons in 1933/34.
Dance Marathons (also called Walkathons), an American phenomenon of the 1920s and 1930s, were human endurance contests in which couples danced almost non-stop for hundreds of hours (as long as a month or two), competing for prize money.
Dance marathons originated as part of an early-1920s, giddy, jazz-age fad for human endurance competitions such as flagpole sitting and six-day bicycle races. Dance marathons persisted throughout the 1930s as partially staged performance events, mirroring the marathon of desperation Americans endured during the Great Depression.
In these dance endurance contests, a mix of local hopefuls and seasoned professional marathoners danced, walked, shuffled, sprinted, and sometimes cracked under the pressure and exhaustion of round-the-clock motion. A 25-cent admission price entitled audience members to watch as long as they pleased.
The 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, based on the 1935 novel of the same title written by Horace McCoy, a bouncer at several such marathons, popularized the idea and prompted students at Northwestern University, Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University, Ohio State University, the University of Florida, the University of Kentucky, the University of Iowa, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to create charity dance marathons.