Great Depression Started Dance Marathons For Food

Samuel Reason

Events that offered the promise of food and money during the Great Depression attracted people like flies. As a result, huge dance marathons would happen where the winners would get food. The problem was everyone was starving with no solution in sight, they were all determined to win. This caused many dancers to suffer from exhaustion and die.

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Callum Devillier from Lanesboro, Minnesota won one of the events in 1932. To win he had to dance for 3780 continuous hours. To celebrate the achievement he put it on his headstone before his death in 1973: World Champion Marathon Dancer. So why in the world did he spend nearly half a year dancing on a Massachusetts dance floor? Sure he was trying to set a record, but these events were not really for fun.

During 1932 it was the height of the Great Depression, there was not much to do at all. So the perverse entertainment racket of the dance marathon took over the country. This was because it wasn’t just the appeal of winning a cash prize. Contestants could also count on being fed and sheltered during the contest.

It was a concept that started in the 1920s, a time of stable jobs and prosperity. Postwar optimism was in the air, men and women boogied into the night. The Olympic Games put into place a real obsession with world records. Which translated into people trying to achieve their own world records. Dancing seemed like an obvious choice at the time. Little did they know they would create a morbid event during the time of the Great Depression.

Dancer Alma Cummins is recorded as starting the dance craze, she waltzes for over 30 hours which at the time was a recond. In the weeks that followed, women broke her record all over the country. And the game was on! Enterprising promoters caught on and started a boom.

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