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Dance Marathons:  A Pagent of Fatigue

    "Black" Dance Marathons (not racial,) Continuous motion or "Derbies" can be traced back to 1364 in London and became extremely popular during the depression years in the United States during the 1920s-30s as many out of work people would compete for money prizes, as well as some stars of some kind seeking publicity. Anyone could enter these pageants of fatigue and endurance contests.

    Most of the music that was played was slow, but once or twice an hour they would pick up the beat (called Sprints) and they were required to dance the dance of the music, sometimes for extra cash and/or prizes. The general rule was you could not fall asleep, while some contests allowed one part of the team to sleep so long as the other held them up, kept in contact and / or kept moving.

    As time in the contest continued, resting times would go from the 1st week - half hour, 2nd week to fifteen minutes, then ten minutes, then five, then three minutes to none, while some marathons would be danced sixty minutes then rest for fifteen. There were many variations in the rules for different events, but you get the idea. To insure people followed the rules, there were referees that walked among the dancers, making sure the dancers stayed moving by using various methods to wake them up or to make sure they stayed on their feet, kept moving etc. or whatever might be in the rules.

   The marathon usually consisted of a emcee, a Band and or phonograph player, a Nurses, in house Doctor, a dance Judge, a few cots, a dance floor, Contestants, with some furnishing Barbers, Manicurists and Podiatrists, etcetera. Some contestants were professional dancers/actors and would move from one marathon to the next. Not all entrants were there to win, some were placed (staged) in the contest to later get into a fight (Jerry Springer type) or some kind of entertainment to draw interest and draw the paying audience, as well as having "fixed" type entertainment like modern day wrestling on television. Dance marathons eventually turned into walk-a-thons, being that you had to dance part of the hour and walk another part of the hour, eventually they became just walking the whole time.

   The longest running dance marathon lasted for 22 weeks and 3 1/2 days. Some dancers would do many things to help them continue, one ladies success was due to "Pickling her feet" before the contests (yes, just like making pickles). Some marathons would allow you to switch partners with another contestant within a certain time period if your partner dropped out or quit, feel asleep etc. with another who's partner did same, as long as the remaining partner kept moving. Dance marathons were eventually outlawed (called Blue Laws) in most states due to the unhealthy condition they would put the contestants in and yes, some even died doing them (you can die from lack of sleep alone as well as other things like heart attacks, etc.).

   The Dance Marathons Book and Dance of the Sleepwalkers is a great source for information on the whole aspect of Marathon Dancing in a book form. Personally, my favorite was the Kissing Marathons :)

For a list of dancers who danced in Marathons >>> Click Here [Page Two]

Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

England 1364 n/a ENDURANCE
LEGEND: c=couples, s=solo






Allentown Marathon 5/13/1933 Allentown, PA. n/a n/a
Audubon Ballroom 3/30/1923-3/31/1923 Audobon Ballroom 27:00 ??
Bayonne Marathon 1932 Bayonne Opera House, NJ ?? ??
Baltimore Marathon
4/11/1923-4/14/1923 Baltimore, MD - was Stopped 53:00 8c & 6s
Boardwalk Marathon 1932 Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, N J. ?? ??
Cedar Grove Marathon 1923 Cedar Grove, LI shut down n/a
Cleveland Marathon 4/12/1923-4/16/1923 Cleveland, OH 66:00 4 couples
Crystal Star Dance Marathon & Walk-A-Thon 12/1931 Crystal Star Stadium, E. Patterson, NJ n/a 51 couples
Dance Derby Of The Century 6/10/1928 Madison Square Garden 481:00 91 couples
Derby Show, The 1935 ?? ?? ??
Dreamland's World Championship Marathon 3/19/1910 & 3/20/1910 Dreamland Rink, San Francisco, CA. n/a 20 couples
Hagerstown Marathon 8/23/1938 Hagerstown, MD. ?? ??
International Marathon (Program Cover) 1931 Willow Grove Park ?? ??
International Marathon (Tebbett's) 1932 $1000 1st prize ?? ??
International Super Dance 4/13/1933 10p.m. Tulip Land Ballroom- Colins Park, Baltimore, MD - 31 couples
Lehigh Valley Marathon [Winners] 1933 Easton, Pennsylvania (85 days) 2040:00 40 couples
Mad Marathon 1920's? Calamut City, IL. ?? ??
Madison Square Garden 1929 New York ?? ??
Manhattan Casino (Shorty George) 6/17/1928->7/4/1928 Harlem New York 16 days 80 couples
Marathon Dance Hall 1930s Ocean Pier- Santa Monica ?? ??
McMillan Dance Marathon 4/15/1923 McMillan's Dance Academy - Houston, TX 65:30 7 Solo
Merry Garden Marathon 1930 Merry Garden Dance Hall- Chicago, IL 2780:00? ??
Million Dollar Pier 5/26/1932 - 10/19/1932 Atlantic City, NJ ?? ??
Motor Square Garden Marathon ?? Pittsburgh ?? $100
Pogos Marathon 3/19 & 3/20 1978 Missouri (Multiple Sclerosis Society) 30 hours charity
Rendezvous Swingeree 6/18/1938 - 6/25/1938 Rendezvous Ballroom, Newport Ca. 7 days ??
Revere Beach Marathon 1933 Boston, MA ?? ??
Rookie Lewis Walkathon 7/1936 Century Ballroom, Tacoma Washington ?? ??
Savin Rock Marathon 1933 Savin Rock, Conn. 2151:00 n/a
Seashore Marathon 1931 Atlantic City ?? ??
Silver Slipper 1933 Keansburg, N.J.    
Sunderland Marathon 2/18/1923 & 3/6/1923 Sunderland, England 07:00 ??
Youngstown Marathon 5/27/1923 E. Youngstown Pavilion, Ohio 182:08 n/a
W.E. Tebbett's Walkathon & Derbie 1932 Convention Hall Annex, PA & Atlantic City. ($2000 Grand Prize) n/a n/a
Wildwood Marathon 1933? Wildwood, New Jersey 81 days ??
Willow Grove Park Marathon 1931 Pennsylvania ?? ??
White City Ballroom Marathon 8/30/1930, 1934 White City Park ?? ??
World Championships [program cover] 1910 Dreamland Rink ?? N/A
World Championships [program cover] 1930 Green's Palace Ballroom. Baltimore, MD 2424:00 N/A

Posters / Lobby Cards etc.

Theaters / Nightclubs

Sheet Music Titles

Maraton de Baile (1957) lc Madison Square Garden - NY [1928] n/a
      Manhattan Casino - NY [1928]      
Thank God It's Friday - VHS

Films with or About Dance Marathons

Blue Laws
1915 - Mike Murphy's Marathon (?) NY Penal Code
Section 8 - 32/Art-78
1919- The Marathon> (with Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels)
1923 - Marathon Dancers> (Animated) Los Angeles, Ordinance #'s:
61,653 & 71.181
1930 - Lottery Bride
1930s - Pathe Newsreel: A Time to Remember #3  
1933 - Pathe Newsreel: Scrapbook for 1933  
$1948 - Mexican Hayride (Abbott and Costello, June Havoc)  
1950s - Marathon de Baile (Mexican).  
1953 - Ford 50th Anniversary #2  
$1969 - They Shoot Horses Don't They(1930s based)[DVD]  
$1975 - Brother Can You Spare A Dime (1930s Documentary) [DVD]  
$1978 - Thank God It's Friday (Disco Marathon)[Sound track]  
Dancing Angel (Jacquelyn Smith and Caesar Romero)
They Shoot Horzses Don't They - VHS



Johnny "Sour Puss" Lue (aka: Demon Floor Judge / Tibbetts-1932) n/a Commissioner Harris - NY

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...

Title Author Date Published Publisher
Endurance Contest Booklet ?? 1920s ??
Is The Marathon Craze Dead Yet? Staff Writer 1/1923 Dance Lovers Magazine
Dance Marathon: "One Dead and Dozens in Hospital” as a result
of an 86 hour marathon dance."
Staff Writer 2/28/1923 Chicago's Saturday Blade Newspaper
Negro Dance Derby Ends ... Shut Down after 16 days by Commissioner Staff Writer 7/4/1928 New York Times
"Harlem Dance Derby Prize Divided" Staff Writer 7/7/1928 New York Times
Dance of the Fools Staff Writer 2/1931 The Dance Magazine
DYNAMIC DETECTIVE (Slain Dance Marathon Queen)   1/1938 Magazine
Dance Marathons Staff Writer 5/5/1938 Life Magazine
$ They Shoot Horses Don't They - (w/ Jane Fonda) ?? 1969 ??
$ Dance Marathons- Performing American Culture of the 20s & 30s Carol Martin ?? ??
$ Dance of the Sleepwalkers - The Dance Marathon Fad - Frank Calabria ?? ??
Fads, Follies and Delusions of the American People - Paul Sann ?? ??
Only Yesterday ?? ?? ??




Judges, MC's etc

n/a Red Skelton (Tebbett's 1932) n/a Night Judge: Ernie Youngblood (Silver Slipper)
  Frankie Rizzo (Comedian Silver Slipper)     Day Judge: Nick Schiable (Silver Slipper)
          MC: Eddie Gilmartin & Teddy Hayes (Silver Slipper)

Other / Notes

1374 - Aachen, Germany - A Dancing Madness, lasting many hours is believed to be due to the bite of the Tarantula Spider (Tarantella). This is considered the first dance marathon.
4/22/1927 - L.A. Herald - L.A. / Venice Marathon
1930s - Red Skelton - W.E. Tebbett's and Various Marathon Emcee and comedian.
1930s - Texas Guianan & Earl Carroll did not approve of the Marathons (it stole business)
1932 - Johnny ' Sour Puss' Loe was hailed as 'the Demon Judge' at W.E. Tebbett's Marathon.
1935 - Horace McCoy - was a Marathon Bouncer - California
1935 - NEAA- National Endurance Amusement Assoc.
Some marathons were repeated over the years, and in some instances, many times in the same year and are not represented above unless of some significant event (s) happening in them. Also some marathons started in one year and finished in the next.
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Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your searches

Blue Laws      
Pageants of Fatigue      
Walkathon (Walk-A-Thon)      
February 17, 2013