Ann Lawanick struggles to support her exhausted partner, Jack Ritof, during a dance marathon in Chicago.

Image: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

During the Great Depression, a bizarre and little-known fad emerged across the United States: dance marathons

Beginning in 1923 as light-hearted competitions of endurance, dance marathons eventually transformed into something rather dark and exploitative. Contestants, who were often in dire financial straits, were given shelter and meals as long as they kept dancing, with a substantial cash award for the last couple standing.

Rules varied from event to event, but many competitions allowed each dancer to take brief naps and bathroom breaks as long as their partner continued dancing. This allowed the marathons to stretch on for days, weeks and even months — as exhausted dancers vied for prize money while event promoters charged gawkers an entrance fee to watch. Read more…

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The Great Depression dance marathons that lasted months at a time