The Dancers Club of New York City: 1929-1934.

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Author: Nelson D. Neal
Date: Jan. 2021
Publisher: Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier, Inc.
Document Type: Report
Length: 5,912 words
Lexile Measure: 1810L

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If you are unfamiliar with the Dancers Club of New York City from the 1930s, it probably is not what you think the name suggests. It was not a social dance club where people went to dance and drink and forget about the horrible situation of the great depression, nor was it something akin to vaudeville and character dancing venues where one went for amusement and laughter for an hour or so. This was a home for serious professional concert and stage dancers who were feeling the brunt of the economic, social, and emotional depression at its lowest point in United States history. These professional dancers needed a roof over their heads with a place to sleep, food to eat, and any kind of work to earn even a meager living. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for people during the Great Depression; how they existed from day to day, or what it must have been like to be out of work with little or no money for rent and food.

Between 1932 and 1933 the average income of an American family was between $125 and $208 per month. (1) Of course, this was for people who had jobs, not dancers and other professionals in the arts who were out of work. In 1932 in the industry of recreation and amusement, which included musicians, actors and dancers, the average monthly salary of all employees, those fulltime workers, was $80.83. Unfortunately, dancers, actors and musicians were not employees of any theater and for salary computations were not always listed as employees. (2) For 1932, if you multiply the median monthly rent of $25, in a multiple family dwelling, such as an apartment house, then fulltime workers in the recreation and amusement industry had only $54.17 left for food and other monthly living expenses. That means that dancers, actors and musicians had even less money on which to live; this was an extremely difficult time to be a performing artist.

Today, people who support the fine and performing arts think it's terrible that art, music, theater, and dance programs are continually being cut from school curricula across the country because of lack of funds, and that government funding is much less than it has ever been. However, we still have some government support for the performing arts, unlike during the depression when anything unrelated to basic living generally wasn't thought about and usually was not supported or funded. However, in 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and "over its eight years of existence, the WPA put roughly 8.5 million Americans to work. Perhaps best known for its public works projects, the WPA also sponsored projects in the arts--the agency employed tens of thousands of actors, musicians, writers and other artists." (3)

During the great depression, from the late 1920s through much of the 1930s, many businesses were scaled back or closed, and hundreds of thousands of people were out of work. When it came...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A670468381