Strange, semi-social events called dance marathons sprang up in the 1920s and 1930s. They took place in many cities around the country. The dances lasted not for hours, but for days. Promoters of these marathons offered cash and other prizes for the couple or couples who outlasted other dancers on the floor.
The grueling contests continued until couples ran out of steam one by one and literally collapsed to the floor. More determined dancers who managed to continue dancing often did so by slapping or pinching each other or by breathing smelling salts to stay awake.
During the long years of the Great Depression, marathon madness attracted more and more people desperate to earn a few dollars. Promoters offered cash prizes of several hundred dollars. The longest running marathon on record occurred at Chicago’s Merry Garden Ballroom during the winter of 1930-31. Almost unvelievably, the winning couple danced continuously for 214 days. They took home a prize of $2,000.
The efforts of health and law enforcement authorities eventually brought an end to the infamous dance marathons.