Captain George Vancouver Julia Butler Hansen Carlos Bulosan Ernestine Anderson Kurt Cobain Bill Gates & Paul Allen Home
Search Encyclopedia
Facebook
Advanced Search
Featured Eassy Sponsor of the Week
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search
6815 HistoryLink.org essays now available      
Donate Subscribe

Shortcuts

Libraries
Cyberpedias Cyberpedias
Timeline Essays Timeline Essays
People's Histories People's Histories

Selected Collections
Cities & Towns Cities & Towns
County Thumbnails Counties
Biographies Biographies
Interactive Cybertours Interactive Cybertours
Slide Shows Slideshows
Public Ports Public Ports
Audio & Video Audio & Video

Research Shortcuts

Map Searches
Alphabetical Search
Timeline Date Search
Topic Search

Features

Book of the Fortnight
Audio/Video Enhanced
History Bookshelf
Klondike Gold Rush Database
Duvall Newspaper Index
Wellington Scrapbook

More History

Washington FAQs
Washington Milestones
Honor Rolls
Columbia Basin
Everett
Olympia
Seattle
Spokane
Tacoma
Walla Walla
Roads & Rails

Timeline Library

< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Dance Marathon/Walkathon opens in Yakima on September 28, 1935.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5539 : Printer-Friendly Format

On September 28, 1935, the Hollywood Amusement Company opens a dance marathon/walkathon in Yakima at the Playland Park Arena. Dance marathons 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.

No Rest For the Weary

Dance marathons were an American phenomena of the 1920s and 1930s. The contests, in which teams of dancers remained in motion around the clock with just 15 minutes each hour allotted for rest, were popular with Depression-era audiences who had time on their hands but little money. As was customary in dance marathons, the Yakima contestants were composed of seasoned professional marathoners and a smattering of local hopefuls.

Twenty-five cents bought a ringside seat to what most audiences thought was true human drama, hope, and misery. In actuality the contests were nearly always somewhat rigged, and hopeful amateurs rarely if ever lasted the distance. The professional marathoners who usually won were known admiringly as "horses" because of their strength and ability to endure the rigors of the contest.

The Yakima show, like most dance marathons, consisted of a daytime "walking show" in which contestants shuffled around the arena, sleeping on each other's shoulders as often as possible. Care was taken to ensure that the sleeping ("lugging") partner’s knees did not buckle: Knees on the ground brought instant disqualification.

Playland Arena had a seating capacity of 2,000. The contestants performed full-out during the evening hours, dancing to the music of Mickey’s Syncopators. Radio KIT broadcast from the marathon daily. Each night the increasingly exhausted marathoners were put through derby races and treadmills, during which contestants were often chained or tied together.

“Very little heat (excessive cruelty and pressure designed to work the audience into an emotional frenzy) is being used by Head Floor Judge Fred Carter,” reported the entertainment trade publication, The Billboard, of the Yakima show, “as derbies and treadmills produce plenty of enthusiasm among the audience” (November 23, 1935).

Will You Marry Me, Again?

Another dance marathon staple was a public wedding. Professional marathoners, who invariably knew each other before the show started, usually pretended (for the benefit of the audience) to meet, court, and fall in love during the marathon. Public weddings, with the audience as congregation and fellow contestants as attendants, elicited gifts from local merchants for the happy couple and standing room only crowds. Some marathoners married each other in show after show, divorcing between shows. Sometimes a "mock" minister (whom the audience believed was legitimate) performed a ceremony for couples who were in truth already married to others. Professional marathoners Buddy Gannon and Velma Lewis were married during the Yakima dance marathon.

By November 16, “after 980 hours of grueling derbies and treadmills,” three couples and two solo dancers remained on the dance floor (The Billboard, November 23, 1935). Twelve days later, on November 28, 1935, husband and wife team Frenchy Boisjolie and Chad Alviso claimed the $500 first prize. The $250 second place prize went to Buddie Harrington and Bob Fields. Harrington and Fields had teamed up during the final days of the contest following the disqualification of their respective partners.

Sources:
Carol Martin, Dance Marathons: Performing American Culture In The 1920s and 1930s (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994); Frank Calabria, Dance of the Sleepwalkers: The Dance Marathon Fad (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993); Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935); June Havoc, Marathon ’33 (New York: Dramatists Play Service Inc, 1969); June Havoc, Early Havoc (London: Hutchinson & Co, 1960); Anita O’Day with George Eells, High Times, Hard Times (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981); Richard S. Kaplan, “An Appeal To Reason,” The Billboard, June 29, 1935, p. 31; Richard P. Kaplan, “Are Walkathons Lawful?” Ibid. February 2, 1935, p. 26; Leo A. Seltzer, “What Future -- Walkathons?” Ibid., December 29, 1934, p. 220; Display Advertisement, Ibid., September 21, 1935, p. 26; “Yakima in Nonstop With 3 and 2 at 980,” Ibid., November 23, 1935, p. 28; “Contestant Notes,” Ibid. March 7, 1936, p. 27.


Travel through time (chronological order):
< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Special Suite: Dance Marathons |

Related Topics: Society |

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You


This essay made possible by:
Humanities Washington


Professional Dance Marathon couple, ca. 1935
Courtesy Paula Becker


 
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search

HistoryLink.org is the first online encyclopedia of local and state history created expressly for the Internet. (SM)
HistoryLink.org is a free public and educational resource produced by History Ink, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt corporation.
Contact us by phone at 206.447.8140, by mail at Historylink, 1411 4th Ave. Suite 803, Seattle WA 98101 or email admin@historylink.org