Inside the crazy world of dance marathons in Depression-era Galveston

HOUSTON — Texas author Sarah Bird constructs curious dreamscapes.

We, the readers, linger in them for as long as we can, even after we’ve finished the last pages of one of her luminescent books.

In her recent novel, “Last Dance on the Starlight Pier,” that dream world — sometimes a nightmare — involves Depression-era dance marathons, especially a spectacular one staged at an aging venue raised above the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston.

In an America during the 1930s desperate for any type of distraction, marathon couples, some amateurs, others “horses,” or pros, danced until one couple was left standing. They followed enforced rules and took designated breaks, but it was really a matter of how long they could endure their foot-bruising, sleep-deprived time on stage.

The pro dancers took on distinct personalities. Organizers designed false narratives to fit their stars. Audiences lapped it up.

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