It all began with the record of a woman named Alma Cummings. Alma danced for 27 hours, non-stop, going through six different partners. Everyone wanted to try, or watch others try. The craze was born. Dance marathons weren’t just about dancing, they were also a way to make money as a spectator sport. People filled these dance halls, paying roughly 25 cents a pop to watch these cheery couples dance and then slowly fall apart.
The dance halls mixed up the music selection from upbeat to slow dances to give contestants the rest or wake-up call they needed. Couples could dance, run, or walk, any movement would do. The moment they both went still they would be disqualified. Each event started off playful and energetic enough, but soon the smiles faded as exhaustion set in. They served as a test of both ones physical and mental endurance. They were probably quite the test on each couple’s relationship as well.
Considering the time this trend flourished, it’s easy to see why, despite the demanding nature of the events, people still participated. Contestants were usually in great need of financial assistance and these competitions provided cash prizes to the winners and food and shelter for the duration of the dance. Each couple would be assigned a number and as long as one person remained on the dance floor, the other was allowed to run off for quick food and bathroom breaks.
A man named Homer Morehouse danced for 87-hours before collapsing from sheer exhaustion and then died right there on the dance floor. Another awful case took place during a dance marathon in Seattle. A women dedicated 19-days of her life to dancing, only to receive fifth place. She attempted suicide because of it.
After that incident Seattle passed an ordinance banning dance marathons from being held within city limits. Dance marathons were pretty dangerous and humiliating, many cities outlawed them completely, but they still exist in a tamer form today. Usually they run from 12 to 24 hours to raise funds for charities, most notably, the Children’s Miracle Network.