The Seventies took dance marathons to new extremes
The same year The Waltons held a 7-day dance-off, a dance marathon in Boston strove to beat a world record: "No one is quite sure when it will end."
When The Waltons episode "The Marathon" aired in 1974, dance marathons like the one depicted in the show were becoming a revived craze around the country.
The Waltons is set during the Depression era when dance marathons first became popular, so it made sense to see a dance-off featured on the show. But elsewhere, dance marathons were definitely back in style in the Seventies.
On The Waltons, their dance marathon lasted seven days and the grand prize for the winning couple who out-dances everyone else and raises the most money for charity is a $200 cash prize.
This was a typically ambitious Depression-era dance marathon, lasting a week, but it was by no means the longest dance marathon held at that time.
In June 1933, a world record was set when the most severe dance marathon ever lasted 22 weeks and three and a half days.
While that’s an impressive and exhausting amount of time to dance, for the 1933 marathon, the contestants were allowed to take breaks that lasted for 6 hours every day to recharge. It’s easier to see how dancers lasted so many weeks with such long breaks daily.
Dance marathons like the ones in the 1920s and 1930s continued through the 1940s and 1950s with young people jitterbugging for charity, but in the Sixties, dance marathons became less popular.
Then in the Seventies, dance marathons came back – with a vengeance.
These new Seventies grueling marathons required dancers to truly never stop moving, with breaks cut way down to sometimes only five or 10 minutes before dancing had to be resumed.
In 1974, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described a local dance marathon that lasted 52 hours and required dancers to keep 75 percent of their bodies in motion.
For safety, these dancers were provided with half-hour breaks every four hours, where they could rehydrate and catch their breath.
To keep up that pace in between breaks, the dancers littered the dancefloor with handkerchiefs and towels from wiping their sweaty faces. However, "unlike the marathons of the 1930s, no one fainted or had to be carried away dramatically by men in white."
Most of these Seventies dance marathons raised money for charities dedicated to causes like multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. Couples who lasted the duration of the marathon won prizes, like TV sets or stereos, while the winning couples who made the most money for charity won grand prizes.
Often the grand prize was a set of bicycles.
One marathon we found gave away a pair of his and her motorcycles.
In Boston in 1974, the grand prize for a dance marathon designed to have no end was a 16-day cruise in the Virgin Islands.
At that marathon, "no one is quite sure when it will end," and unlike the St. Louis marathon, because the goal was so extreme, there were ambulances and resuscitation equipment kept nearby.
One couple quoted in The Boston Globe said they brought enough high-energy food to last three days, plus extra socks and shoes.
Most couples told the Globe they had back-up crews ready to deliver extra food, water and supplies, depending on how long the marathon stretched on.
Where the 1933 record-holding marathon gave six-hour daily breaks, for this ambitious Boston dance marathon in 1974, couples were only given two hour breaks each day they made it.
"Even when the music stops, they must, by the rules, keep moving and touching, and their swaying in the silence is surrealistic," The Boston Globe reported.
Because the dance marathon was planned to be so ambiguously grueling, event planners had to review 100 applications for potential health concerns. They even begged a 63-year-old man who wanted to compete to sit this dance out.
Once the dance marathon began, the Boston event did draw some skeptics who doubted the Seventies kids would have what it took to outlast the 1930s dance marathoners who set the world record.
"They’ll last three days at the most," an older gentleman onlooker told The Boston Globe. "The kids are soft today, driving all the time and eating that crazy food. Three days."