Hearty Dancers Defied Duval's Sheriff

Article excerpt

It was a movable feast.

A fugitive fandango, if you will.

"Stop the music!" the sheriff of Duval County insisted, once upon an unimaginable time.

Thou Shalt Not Marathon on the Sabbath, the majesty of the law decreed.

So they up and put the shindig on a flatbed truck and danced on, regardless.

For reasons perhaps under-appreciated in a day of cable television and personal computers, marathon dancing was big in 1923.

Jacksonville had not one, but two high-profile dance endurance contests going on at the same time that June.

One was George Boutwell's Ortega pavilion in West Jacksonville, the other on Shad's Pier in Pablo Beach.

The idea was simple: Whoever danced the longest won. The motivation was perhaps more complex.

Why dance and dance and dance for hours on end? Why try to dance longer than anyone else?

Why would one eschew rest and sleep and satisfying food, a warm bath, and toothpaste, to sway in random syncopation and gritty proximity to others so engaged?

Because it was there, of course. It was the challenge of the thing.

Jimmy Trotter ran the marathon in his dance hall on the Pablo Beach pier, promising $1,000 in prizes.

Boutwell's affair on the Ortega pier was billed as strictly an exhibition. No prizes were being offered. It was the honor of the thing.

Many looked askance at the marathon dances. Perhaps with reason. It was a time of flaming youth, of Sneaky Pete, of outlandish behavior that annoyed the in-landish.

Still, thousands turned out to watch. It was bigger'n Roller Derby in a later time. They mixed and mingled and contributed body heat and cigarette smoke and added ambience to the swing and sway.

Sheriff Ham Dowling said he'd shut down the dances at midnight Saturday because it wasn't right for people to behave like this on a Sunday. Dowling said his lawyer told him so.

"It is a morbid curiousity that attracts people to the marathons," Dowling said. "Neither of them is doing anybody any good."

Pablo Beach Mayor Joe Bussey agreed. …

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