Today in 1907, the birthday of Callum deVillier, a champion of dance marathons.

To win one contest, he and a partner had to keep at it for five months (!?!)

The dance marathon was enormously popular a century ago, but over time it’s become more notorious than noteworthy.

The idea was that pairs of dancers would pay a small entry fee and then try to outlast the other couples on the dance floor to win a prize.

The contestants could do pretty much whatever they needed to do – eat, shave, read the paper – as long as they were on their feet and kept those feet dancing.

The first dance marathon record was 27 hours, set by New York dance teacher Alma Cummings.

But because this was the fad-heavy and records-obsessed 1920s, there were nine new records set in just the next few weeks.

It was during the Great Depression that the craze got way out of hand.

Dancers could win cash prizes and both winners and losers got free meals, so desperate people were doing anything they could to stay in the game.

The couples would try to push through personal risks like pain and sleep deprivation to win.

Every few hours dancers got 15 minute breaks on cots that were wheeled onto the dance floor, but that was it.

Some collapsed, and their partners would try to hold them up so that their knees didn’t hit the floor and they’d be knocked out of the contest.

Risks like these are why a lot of places ended up banning traditional dance marathons.

Also, there had been stories that some of the dance marathons were rigged, or that organizers skipped town before giving out any prizes.

In some cases people were putting themselves in danger for nothing.

Callum deVillier was an exception: he reportedly won 12 dance marathons, including one in Massachusetts that began in December 1932 and continued until June 1933.

He and partner Vonnie Kuchinski danced for 3,780 hours straight.

By some accounts they even got married during that marathon.

After he was done dancing, deVillier ran a hair salon in his native Minnesota, though it appears he kept regular hours, no haircut marathons.

Today in Indiana, the Shipshewana Ice Festival gets underway, with artisans carving intricate designs into their frozen blocks.

It’s also the start of the Shipshewana Chili Cook-off, because what better way to warm up after carving ice than with some hot chili?

The bleak story behind the birth of dance marathons (MPR News)

Shipshewana Ice Festival/Chili Cookoff

Backing us on Patreon is no marathon, it just takes a couple minutes

Photo by National Photo Company via Wikicommons