Monday, April 29, 2013

The Taxi Dance Hall

            While young white women usually shared the same racist sentiments as their parents, their views changed when they entered the Taxi Dance Halls and were paid to mingle with men of non-European origins.  These taxi hall dancers made their livings by dancing with any man willing to pay.  They were expected to dress nicely, if not extravagantly, and treat their customers as friends.  Paul Cressey, a sociologist who did extensive research on the Taxi Dance Halls in the 1930s, wrote how the first- time dancers expressed a dislike of dancing with any man who was not white.  They were raised to be disgusted with race mixing, and did not want to make their paychecks by flirting with Filipinos and other immigrants.  "But after a time, she ceases to be a novitiate, and must make a deliberate effort to maintain her status.  If she fails and is no longer able to secure sufficient patronage exclusively from the white group, she comes eventually to accept the romantic attentions of Filipinos and other Orientals” (Cressey, 90).  The dancers not only disliked the race mixing, but resisted it for as long as they could.  As new dancers, they were popular and could afford to remain exclusively with white men.  However, as new dancers joined the hall and they became well known, they were no longer special to the white customers.  They had to be friendly with the minorities as well.  Eventually, the girls who remained at the dance halls began to develop relationships with their patrons, and the idea of mixing races no longer bothered them.  Those who were bothered normally returned home, for they could not make a living if they were unwilling to dance with all of the patrons.  Cressey writes of a dancer named Wanda, who, becoming dissatisfied with the life of the dance hall, ran away with a Filipino patron after knowing him for a month and marrying (89).  In an atmosphere where race mixing is accepted and even encouraged by the dance hall owners and the more experienced dancers, white women embraced the idea of developing relationships with men from minority groups.  However, this acceptance only seemed to last as long as the girls remained in this atmosphere.  Another dancer, named May, told of how she felt the same aversion to dancing with foreigners, but after a while considered marrying a Filipino man.  Later, she decided against it and returned to her parents (Cressey, 85).  “They (her friends) were telling about a chop-suey proprietor who had married a white woman.  For some reason, that made me mad, and I started in telling what I thought of anyone who would marry a “Chink.”…I had just realized that only the year before I had seriously considered marrying a Filipino” (Cressey, 86).  Returning to her previous life reignited the racist thoughts she had before she depended on Filipino and Chinese immigrants to make a living.  This shift shows how quickly she changed her opinion of minority men when she no longer lived among them.  Once she was out of the Taxi Dance Hall, she was “fixed” of her socially unacceptable and taboo ideas towards race.  Returning to her parents helped her return to a proper life among her white family.
            Cressey addressed the problem that the Taxi Dance Halls, and ultimately the interracial relationships forged in them, in his study:The Taxi-dance Hall; a Sociological Study in Commercialized Recreation and City Life.  Here, he discussed what he called “The life cycle of the Taxi Hall Dancer.”  The cycle begins with a young white girl who is disenchanted with her home life.  She runs away and, in order to support herself, takes the job of selling dances.  Because she is new, she is popular and all of the white men want to dance with her.  As she becomes more well known, she must start selling dances to minorities.  This is where she first falls.  As she moves down the social ladder, she eventually becomes too washed out and well known at the taxi dance hall.  She is no longer able to support herself as a dancer, and relies on prostitution to make a living.  Often, this led to drug or alcohol abuse, pregnancy, and a degraded social status (Cressey, 87).  Cressey’s view of the Taxi Dance Hall as a means to eventual prostitution looks unfavorably on interracial relationships as well.  He signifies the “fall” of the dancer with the race of man she sells her dances to.  As she moves down the social ladder from white men to Filipino and Chinese men, she has descended further into social taboo, and come closer to prostitution and a point of no returning to her former life.
Men wait outside of a dance hall

Dancers prepare for work

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