taxi dancing

Taxi dancer

A taxi dancer, or "taxi" for short (the word has been used since circa 1927), is a professional dance partner in a partner dance. Taxi dancers are typically young women who are hired by male patrons to dance with them on a dance-by-dance basis. The term "taxi dancer" comes from the fact that, as with a taxi-cab driver, the dancer's pay is proportional to the time she spends with the patron. A "taxi" is not a prostitute, and no sexual favors may be expected off the dance floor.


During the 1920s and '30s when taxi dancing enjoyed its peak popularity, patrons in a taxi-dance hall would typically buy dance tickets for ten cents each, giving rise to the term "dime-a-dance girl". When a patron presented a ticket to a 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 that they collected from their male dance partners. Typically half the price of the ticket went to pay for the orchestra, dance hall, and operating expenses, while the other half would go to the taxi dancer. The ticket-a-dance system is the centerpiece of the taxi-dance halls where the taxi dancers worked. During the 1920s, taxi dancers, while only working a handful of hours an evening, frequently made two to three times the salary of a woman who might work in a factory or a store.

Descriptions of taxi dancers and taxi dancing were documented as early as 1913 within San Francisco's Barbary Coast neighborhood. At that time in San Francisco, the ticket-a-dance system was used in what were called closed dance halls. They were called closed dance halls because female patrons were not allowed — the only women permitted in these halls were the dancing female employees.

But it was not until the 1920s that taxi dancing reached national popularity. At that time in Chicago and in other large cities of the United States, dance academies began to adopt the ticket-a-dance system for their students. The ticket-a-dance system was so popular at dance academies, that taxi dancing quickly spread to an increasing number of non-instructional taxi-dance halls. By the mid 1920s, scores of taxi-dance halls had opened across Chicago and other large cities, as the taxi-dance hall became the most popular place for urban dancing. Some films and novels of that era occasionally chronicled the life of a taxi dancers. In 1927, Joan Crawford starred in the film The Taxi Dancer. And near that time actor Ed Wynn stared in a Ziegfield Broadway musical called Simple Simon, which popularized the song "Ten Cents A Dance".

Taxi-dance halls flourished in America during the 1920s and 30s. But after World War II the popularity of taxi dancing began to diminish, and most of the taxi-dance halls disappeared by the 1960s.

Some notable examples of taxi dancing and dancers in contemporary culture are the musical and film Sweet Charity about a good natured taxi dancer, the film A League of Their Own where Madonna's character, Mae Mordabito, refers to her former life as a taxi dancer, and the Tina Turner song, "Private Dancer". Another instance of taxi dancing and dancers in popular culture is the episode "World's End" (5x07) of the CBS tv crime drama Cold Case. The victim who was murdered in 1938, Audrey Metz, worked secretly as a taxi dancer to make enough money to support her family.

Taxi dancers today

Paying to dance with a female employee is still available in some nightclubs of the United States, including many in Los Angeles. These clubs no longer use the ticket-a-dance system, but have time-clocks and punch-cards that allow the patron to pay for the dancer's time by the hour. Some of these modern dance clubs operate in buildings where taxi dancing was done in the early 20th century. No longer called taxi-dance halls, these latter day establishments are now called Hostess Clubs.

Taxi dancers are currently used in dance styles such as Ceroc for experienced dancers (male or female). They are paid to dance opposite a teacher.

Alternatively taxi dancers may dance among paying customers in order to raise the standard, or dance among the beginners to encourage them to continue learning. In the latter situation, taxi dancers often provide their services on a volunteer basis, without pay, with the general goal of building the dance community.

In social settings and social forms of dance, a partner wanting constructive feedback from a taxi dancer normally must explicitly request it. The taxi dancer's role being primarily social, she is unlikely to criticize her partner directly.

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