Taxi dancer

Taxi dancer

A taxi dancer, or taxi for short (the word has been used since circa 1927), is a paid dance partner in a partner dance. For official purposes in the US, their occupation was referred to as "dancer", when they worked in taxi-dance halls that had all the necessary business permits. But there were some professional secretaries who did moonlighting, or who worked part-time legally as a "dancer". Taxi dancers are hired to dance with their customers 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 he or she spends dancing with the customer.



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 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 was 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.[1]

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, because female customers were not allowed: the only women permitted in these halls were the dancing female employees.[2]

In the 1920s 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. This 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 in Chicago and other 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 taxi dancers. In 1927, Joan Crawford starred in the film The Taxi Dancer. Near that time actor Ed Wynn starred in the Ziegfeld Broadway musical 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.[3]

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.[4]

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.

Thanks to the boom in popularity of partner dances in the 2000s, taxi dancing is becoming more common in settings where partners are in short supply. This involves both male and female dancers. Male dancers are often employed on cruise ships to dance with single female passengers.

The growth in "Tango Tourism" to Buenos Aires, Argentina has led to an increase in both formal and informal taxi dancing services in the milongas or dance halls. While some lone operators are in the business of selling holiday romance, reputable tango taxi agencies offer a genuine service to visitors who find it hard to cope with the 'cabeceo' (eye-contact & nodding) method of finding a dance partner.

References in Contemporary Culture

References to taxi dancing and dancers in contemporary culture include:

  • Both John Mellencamp's third album A Biography and his fourth John Cougar contain a song entitled "Taxi Dancer".
  • 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.
  • The Tina Turner song, "Private Dancer".
  • The 1984 Rick Springfield film Hard to Hold and the Hard to Hold soundtrack album contain the song "Taxi Dancing" about a relationship in which the couple is merely going through the motions. The lyrics to the song rely on taxi dancing references to tell its tale.
  • The White Countess is a 2005 British/American/Chinese drama film directed by James Ivory, which starred Natasha Richardson as the title character, a taxi dancer in 1930s Shanghai, tasked with dancing to support her family (played by real life family members Lynn Redgrave and Vanessa Redgrave).
  • 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 support her family.
  • The heroine of Neville Shute's novel Lonely Road worked as a taxi dancer in a dance hall in Leeds, England.
  • Henry Miller's character in Sexus, part one of the The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, frequents dance halls of this sort, where he meets his wife Mona (June Miller). According to Miller, these dance halls were subject to frequent raids by the police.
  • Graham Greene's character Phuong in The Quiet American works as a taxi dancer.
  • In Stanley Kubrick's film Killer's Kiss, the protagonist's object of affection is a taxi dancer.
  • Christine Fletcher's book Ten Cents a Dance focuses on a 15 year old working as a taxi dancer.
  • In the Laverne & Shirley episode "Call Me a Taxi!", the girls work at a sleazy taxi dance hall.
  • The 1947 Lucille Ball film Lured is about a serial killer who kills a taxi dancer, and another taxi dancer who goes undercover to trap him.
  • The CBS Radio Mystery Drama 'Suspense' featured an episode 'Dime a Dance', also starring Lucille Ball, about a serial killer who specifically targets taxi dancers with red hair.
  • The ill-fated Berga Torn in Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me, Deadly was a taxi dancer.
  • Rosie Perez and Steve Buscemi's characters in the movie Somebody to Love were taxi dancers.
  • In the short story "The Twilight Taxidancer" by Shi Zhecun.
  • "Dime Dancing" is referenced in the title track from the 1977 Steely Dan album "Aja".
  • The Perry Mason novel The Case of the Rolling Bones published September 1939 has one of the characters saying she was a dance hall girl in 1906. "That was before the days of taxi dancers as we know them nowadays." (Chapter 10)
  • In the Pai Hsien-yung collection of short stories about life in Post Chinese Civil War Taiwan called Taipei People.
  • In the movie High Sierra, Ida Lupino's character Marie mentions working as a dime a dance girl, where she met Babe (Alan Curtis).

See also


  1. ^ The Taxi-Dance Hall: A Sociological Study in Commercialized Recreation and City Life, Paul G. Cressey, University Chicago Press, 1932
  2. ^ Report of Public Dance Hall Committee of San Francisco of California Civic League of Women Voters, p.14
  3. ^ Clyde Vedder:Decline of the Taxi-Dance Hall, Sociology and Social Research, 1954.
  4. ^ Dance With A Stranger, Evan Wright, LA Weekley, January 1999

Strictly tango for the dance tourists, by Uki Goni, The Observer, London, 18 November 2007

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • taxi dancer — ☆ taxi dancer n. [so called (based on TAXICAB) because hired to dance] a person employed at a dance hall to dance with patrons, who pay a fee …   English World dictionary

  • taxi dancer — noun a woman employed to dance with patrons who pay a fee for each dance • Hypernyms: ↑dancer, ↑professional dancer, ↑terpsichorean * * * taxi dancer [taxi dancer] noun …   Useful english dictionary

  • taxi dancer — a girl or woman employed, as by a dance hall, to dance with patrons who pay a fee for each dance or for a set period of time. [1925 30; so called because such a dancer, like a taxi, is hired for the occasion] * * * …   Universalium

  • taxi dancer — tax′i danc er n. mad a person, usu. a woman, employed, as by a dance hall, to dance with patrons who pay a fee for each dance • Etymology: 1925–30; so called because such a dancer, like a taxi, is hired for the occasion …   From formal English to slang

  • taxi dancer — noun Date: circa 1927 a woman employed by a dance hall, café, or cabaret to dance with patrons who pay a certain amount for each dance …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • taxi dancer — noun chiefly N. Amer. a professional dance partner …   English new terms dictionary

  • taxi dancer — /ˈtæksi dænsə/ (say taksee dansuh), /dansə/ (say dahnsuh) noun US a woman employed in a dance hall, etc., to dance with patrons, who pay a stipulated amount for each dance …   Australian English dictionary

  • The Taxi Dancer — Filmdaten Originaltitel The Taxi Dancer Produktionsland USA …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • The Taxi Dancer — Infobox Film name = The Taxi Dancer image size = caption = director = Harry F. Millarde producer = writer = Story: Robert Terry Shannon Adaptation: A.P. Younger Titles: Ralph Spence narrator = starring = Joan Crawford Owen Moore Marc McDermott… …   Wikipedia

  • taxi-girl — [ taksigɶrl ] n. f. • 1931; de l angl. amér. taxi dancer ou taxi girl « jeune femme attachée à un dancing et payée en tickets par les clients pour danser avec eux » ♦ Anglic. Jeune femme qui loue ses services comme partenaire de danse, dans un… …   Encyclopédie Universelle