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1930s & Earlier / Dance Marathon Craze
During the 1920s and 1930s, dance marathons were a popular diversion in the United States. It is estimated that at their pinnacle, dance marathons were the main source of livelihood for 20,000 frequent competitors, officials, promoters, and musicians. Rules varied from place to place, but generally a couple stayed in the running for cash prizes as long as they kept moving on the dance floor. Only short respites were allowed every few hours for meals and rests. One event in New York City in 1937 lasted 481 hours--slightly more than 20 days! By the late 1930s, several cities and states had outlawed dance marathons because of the health dangers that accompanied sleep deprivation. This colorized photo from 1925 shows a typically exhausted couple.