I look forward to his articles because -- as I've said before -- they're often the only serious note in an otherwise flippant magazine. As part of his "New York Interiors" series, Markey explored the places that New Yorker readers rarely went: flophouses, tugboat cabins, construction sites, phrenologist's offices, choir practice. On April 21, 1928, he investigated a dance hall and -- in particular -- the lives of taxi dancers.
I'm fascinated with this by-gone profession, and I'm happy to hear that it still exists in so-called "Hostess Clubs." I hope they make more money these days; the women that Markey interviewed were making three cents a dance. By the 1930s, Anita O'Day was singing about "Ten Cents a Dance," so I suppose they'd gotten raises.
Markey really brings "The Happiness Hall" to life, along with its customs:
Lack of ventilation and the activity of so many bodies made the heat grow in the room. The saxophone player removed his coat. The faces of the girls were flushed. The odors of bay rum and cheap perfume became thick and unpleasant. In the short interval between dances, the girls talked idly with their partners or, deserted by their partners in the middle of the floor, roamed about in search of others. It was not rude, apparently, to complete your dance with a girl and promptly walk away from her. The girls accepted the custom with good grace.And what about the men?
They did not seem like people out for a gay lark. There was no romance in their presence. The procedure was altogether businesslike, and well-ordered. Perhaps the men were, for the most part, the lonely inhabitants of hall bedrooms. Perhaps they came to "Happiness Hall" for no more sinister purpose than to find, for a little while, an acceptable semblance of that pleasant society which all men desire. They did not look upon the girls with greedy eyes.After having stilted conversations with some busy (and suspicious) taxi dancers -- it's "all about business," they say -- Markey gives a nod to the "working girl" of 1928:
The music was blaring again--the drummer and the pianist had their coats off now. The men standing around the walls were mopping their foreheads. The girls were dancing--they would dance until one o'clock. I suppose only a few of them were able to forget that tomorrow they would be at their counters in Bloomingdale's, or Macy's, or Gimbel's.These women were paid so little that they pretty much HAD to have a secondary source of income, whether it be gift-giving boyfriends or a "night job."