An ad from May 28, 1936 announcing the return of Taxi Dancing to Sodus Point
What the heck is Taxi Dancing and why was it popular at Sodus Point?
A taxi dancer is a paid dance partner in a partner dance. Taxi dancers are hired to dance with their customers on a dance-by-dance basis. When taxi dancing first appeared in taxi-dance halls during early 20th-century America, male patrons would buy dance tickets for ten cents each. When a patron presented a ticket to a chosen taxi dancer, she would dance with him for the length of a single song. The taxi dancers would earn a commission on every dance ticket earned. Though taxi dancing has for the most part disappeared in the United States, it is still practiced in some other countries.
The term “taxi dancer” comes from the fact that, as with a taxi-cab driver, the dancer’s pay is proportional to the time he or she spends dancing with the customer. Patrons in ataxi-dance hall typically purchased dance tickets for ten cents each, which gave rise to the term “dime-a-dance girl”. Other names for a taxi dancer are “dance hostess”, “taxi” (in Argentina), and “nickel hopper” because out of that dime they typically earned five cents.
Main article: Taxi dance hall
The first descriptions of taxi dancing were documented as early as 1913 in San Francisco‘s Barbary Coast neighborhood. At the time, the ticket-a-dance system operated in what were called closed dance halls, because female customers were not allowed — the only women permitted in these halls were the dancing female employees.
Taxi dancing then spread to Chicago where dance academies began to adopt the ticket-a-dance system for their students. This system was so popular at dance academies, that taxi dancing quickly spread to an increasing number of non-instructional taxi dance halls. Taxi dancing’s popularity peaked in the 1920s as scores of taxi dance halls opened in Chicago, New York, and other major cities. At that time, the taxi dance hall surpassed the public ballroom in becoming the most popular place for urban dancing.
The ticket-a-dance system was the centerpiece of the taxi dance hall where the taxi dancers worked. Taxi dancers typically received half of the ticket price as salary and the other half paid for the orchestra, dance hall, and operating expenses. Although they only worked a few hours a night, they frequently made two to three times the salary of a woman working in a factory or a store.
Various films and novels chronicled the lives of taxi dancers. For example, in 1927 Joan Crawford starred in the film The Taxi Dancer, and actor Ed Wynn starred in the ZiegfeldBroadway musical Simple Simon, which popularized the song “Ten Cents a Dance“, which in turn inspired the 1931 film Ten Cents a Dance, starring Barbara Stanwyck.
After World War II the popularity of taxi dancing in the United States began to diminish, and most of its taxi-dance halls disappeared by the 1960s.
Taxi Dancing in Sodus Point
During the 1930s and 1940s, Sodus Point had dancehalls. One of the popular ones was Danceland and it was said to be located on what is now the beach (although some think it may have been on Greig Street). It was a place where you could dance the night away under the stars in a romantic location on the lake. Men would come to these dances and pay 10 cents a dance with the taxi dancer of their choice. The taxi dancers made a percentage of the price of the ticket and were said to have made decent money. This activity was well chaperoned and inappropriate behavior was rare probably because beer and liquor were not sold at these dances. By the 1950s, the dancehall and taxi dancing was gone from Sodus Point. Bill Huff told me of the story of Meg Andrews (wife of Dwight Andrews) who was a Taxi Dancer. She worked at Joe’s place and received 5 cents a dance which was considered good money at that time.