Tacoma City Council prohibits dance marathons on June 10, 1931.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 12/03/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5600

On June 10, 1931, the Tacoma City Council passes Ordinance No. 10690 prohibiting dance marathons and similar endurance contests and declaring an emergency. Dance marathons (often called Walkathons) are human endurance contests in which couples dance almost non-stop for hundreds of hours (as long as a month or two), competing for prize money. The ordinance is prompted by the arrests of several promoters of a May 1931 dance marathon in Spanaway, as well as by a rising tide of sentiment against the events.

Immoral and Indecent

In addition to the arrests in Spanaway, in which those arrested were charged with “conducting an immoral, indecent and obscene dance” (The Tacoma Times, May 23, 1931), the Tacoma City Council may have been influenced by a 1928 anti-dance marathon ordinance in effect in Seattle. Multnomah County in Oregon, too, had hosted controversial dance marathons and was considering a ban.

Dance marathons, in which couples competed for prize money by dancing around the clock with only 12 minutes each hour allotted for rest, were popular during the 1920s and 1930s but always occupied a slightly seedy place on the fringes of proper society. Churches and women’s groups called the events immoral and argued that it was quite simply wrong to encourage people to pay money to watch the contestants degraded.

Tacoma Says No

Police officers felt the events encouraged lawlessness and brought undesirable elements to town. Although some promoters sought to provide a good clean show within the exhausting constraints of the events, public sentiment tipped against dance marathons and those who sponsored them.

By passing ordinance 10690, the City of Tacoma showed its disdain for the competitions and its resolve that they not sully Tacoma. Violation of the ordinance was punishable by up to $300, 90 days in jail, or both. The ordinance read in part: “It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, society, association or corporation to maintain, operate or conduct any endurance dancing contest, commonly termed a walkathon, within the City of Tacoma.”


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?” The Billboard, February 2, 1935, p. 26; Leo A. Seltzer, “What Future -- Walkathons?” Ibid., December 29, 1934, p. 220; “Arrests halt Lake Spanaway Walkathon,” The Tacoma Times, May 23, 1931; “On Trial For Dance,”Ibid., May 29, 1931; “Will Fight Ban,” Ibid., June 30, 1931, p. 17; “Walkethon [sic] Dance Receiver Sought,” Ibid., June 2, 1931, p. 1; “Walkathon Dance Receiver Named,” Ibid., June 3, 1931, p. 2; Endurance Dancing and Contests (June 10, 1931), Tacoma City Council Ordinance No. 10690.

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