Stuart Jeffries

The dark history of dance marathons

The craze that swept the US in the Roaring Twenties became a theatre of cruelty that fed on the desperation of Depression-era Americans

Bop till you drop: a dance marathon in Culver City, California, 1928. Credit: Granger/Bridgeman Images

On 31 March 1923, Alma Cummings put her feet into a bowl of cold water. Then, tired-eyed but smiling obligingly for the photographer, she held up her dancing shoes. There were holes in both soles. Cummings had just finished a 27-hour stint of waltzing at a Manhattan ballroom, wearing out not just her shoes, but six male partners in the process.

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