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It Only Seems Like A Marathon

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Dancers new to the “weekend” experience usually complain at the end of the first day about their brain drain. A lot of new material comes their way, a lot to absorb especially when the condensed learning experience is new. The concept of being in a marathon comes to mind.

Dance Marathon In the 1920s and 30s, dance marathons were the rage. Winning meant prize money during the hard times of the Great Depression, and just competing meant food for dancers and spectators, a place to sleep (in short naps) if you were homeless and medical attention if it became necessary. The rules were simple—keep shuffling. One partner could fall asleep as long as one could hold the other up and their knees never touched the floor. Most events allowed a 15-minute break every hour. They were nicknamed “bunion derbies” and “corn and callus carnivals” or simply “walkathons,” more descriptive of the movement than actual dancing.

The popularity of dance marathons began in 1923 when a woman named Alma Cummings danced continuously for 27 hours, with six different partners. Competitions sprung up to break her record. The public soon found they were a source of free or cheap entertainment, but it wasn’t long before church groups opposed to dancing in general began lobbying against them. Movie theater owners joined the opposition because marathons were drawing away their patrons. Cities actually began to outlaw them on hygiene as well as moral grounds. Improving economic times and World War II contributed to their demise.

Dance marathons didn’t go away completely, though. They have survived in the form of charity events, mostly on college campuses. Penn State runs a 46-hour-long dance marathon to raise money to combat children’s cancer, raising $147 million since 1977. UCLA raised $3 million several years ago for pediatric research through a dance marathon.

Harmon & Betty Jorritsma And marathons have survived just for the fun of it. Harmon and Betty Jorritsma (pictured), round dance teachers in southern California for more than 35 years, held an annual marathon every summer. No winners, but if you stayed on the floor for the full two and half hours and danced the 50 dances on the program, you got a certificate like the one pictured at left. (Yes, Dan and I completed at least one of those marathons, in 1985.) On the program for that marathon were the likes of Spaghetti Rag, That Happy Feeling, Crazy Eyes, Folsom Prison Blues, and an occasional waltz such as Answer Me.





Finch certificateSo, don’t let that marathon feeling deter you from the next weekend opportunity. Take a break when you need it, absorb all the instructor has to offer, and know you will eventually see the fun in it.








From a club newsletter, March 2019, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, March 2020.


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