A Make-Believe Ballroom: The Taxi-Dancers
“Fighters and sailors and bowlegged tailors
Can pay for a ticket and rent me
Butchers and barbers and rats from the harbor
Are sweethearts my good luck has sent me.”
-Rodgers and Hart, “Ten Cents a Dance” (1930)
The dime-a-dance, or “taxi-dance” phenomenon, reached its peak during the 1920s and early 30s. Taxi-dancing, which derived its name from the “more time, more money” model of a cab ride, was for many women an alternative to the narrow set of opportunities prescribed them in the first decades of the 20th century. Since dancers customarily earned 40 to 50 percent of each 10-cent dance ticket, energetic young women in the late 1920s could easily take home up to $40 a week.
As soon as the girl received a ticket from the patron, she tore it in half, giving one part to the ticket-collector and the other half she blandly stored with other receipts under the hem of her silk stocking. Before the evening was over, the accumulation of tickets looked like a large and oddly placed tumor. Although sailors and other military personnel accounted for a large portion of the clientele, every so often young men of society would frequent the dime-a-dance halls. On the whole, taxi-dancing in Manhattan’s 238 dance halls (by a 1924 count), was considered a viable profession, albeit one that lurked outside the bounds of respectability.
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