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Dance Hall Days

Intimacy and Leisure Among Working-Class Immigrants in the United States

Randy McBee

Publication Year: 2000

The rise of commercialized leisure coincided with the arrival of millions of immigrants to America's cities. Conflict was inevitable as older generations attempted to preserve their traditions, values, and ethnic identities, while the young sought out the cheap amusements and sexual freedom which the urban landscape offered. At immigrant picnics, social clubs, and urban dance halls, Randy McBee discovers distinct and highly contested gender lines, proving that the battle between the ages was also one between the sexes.

Free from their parents and their strict rules governing sexual conduct, working women took advantage of their time in dance halls to challenge conventional gender norms. They routinely passed certain men over for dances, refused escorts home, and embraced the sensual and physical side of dance to further accentuate their superior skills and ability on the dance floor. Most men felt threatened by women's displays of empowerment and took steps to thwart the changes taking place. Accustomed to street corners, poolrooms, saloons, and other all-male get-togethers, working men tried to transform the dance hall into something that resembled these familiar hangouts.

McBee also finds that men frequently abandoned the commercial dance hall for their own clubs, set up in the basements of tenement flats. In these hangouts, working men established rules governing intimacy and leisure that allowed them to regulate the behavior of the women who attended club events. The collective manner in which they behaved not only affected the organization of commercial leisure but also men and women's struggles with and against one another to define the meaning of leisure, sexuality, intimacy, and even masculinity.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii-viii


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p. ix

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pp. 1-12

In 1901, Veronica Loncki and her parents immigrated to the United States, landing first in New York and then moving on to Chicago’s north side, where she lived for the next seven decades. Loncki was fourteen when she left eastern Europe for America, and eventually married John Orkee in 1910...

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1. "Marriages Were a Little Different Then": Marriages Upon Short Acquaintance, and Immigrant, Working Class Life

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pp. 13-50

In 1904, a young Polish woman immigrated to the United States, eventually settled in New Britain, Connecticut, and immediately went to work at a lock factory in town. “First I had to put all the parts into the lock, [and] every pin into place,” she recalled, “and then I had to slip it under a machine, press a foot lever...

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2. The Era of Large Ballrooms and Famous Bands: The Rise of Commercial Leisure and the Making of a Peer Culture

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pp. 51-81

In 1913, Angela Mischke immigrated with her family to the United States and settled in Chicago. As a young women, Mischke had a busy social life. She and her brother Karol used to “read a lot, played cards, and roller skated.” With her girl friends, she “went swimming, played jacks, skipped rope...

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3. "The Girls Here Are Like Crazy": Working-Class Women's Heterosocial Leisure and Homosocial Fun

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pp. 82-114

In November 1913, an investigator for the Committee of Fourteen interviewed Rose Kaiser, a twenty-two-year-old who worked at a department store in New York and lived with her parents on 98th Street between Second and Third Avenues. Kaiser, the investigator concluded, was a “dance hall habitué.”...

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4. "That's Alright, I Have My Gang Here": Working-Class Male Culture and the Struggle over Gender, Identity, and Dance

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pp. 115-156

On a rainy Chicago night in 1925, Julia Podraza met her future husband, George Matiasek. George was a friend of Julia’s oldest brother, Frank, who played baseball with George on the neighborhood corner lot. On that night, Frank brought George home with him to “get protected from the rain”...

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5. "And You Know the Old Saying about Familiarity Breeding Contempt": Working-Class Male Culture, Social Clubs, and Heterosocial Leisure

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pp. 157-197

In 1926, William Krueger, who was a carpenter by trade, declared, “I don’t trust these Chicago girls.” “As soon as they find a man is through spending money on them they are through.” A taxi dancer named Ann Novak, for example, dated Krueger twice and then abruptly asked for a pair of six-dollar slippers...

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6. "When it Comes to My Marrying, Boy, There Will Be a Lot of Strings Pulled by My Parents": Familial Conflict, Commercial Leisure, and Weddings

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pp. 198-233

In the 1930s, a young Italian woman named Clara P., who was a shirt factory worker and who lived with her parents, admitted that “some times you got to lie.” According to Clara, she usually had an “enjoyable time at home,” but she felt her parents had “green ideas” and were “old fashioned”...

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pp. 234-238

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many southern and eastern European immigrant women became “child brides,” and many couples married “upon not too long acquaintance” because of the living conditions with which they had to contend. Apart from family and community...


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pp. 239-278


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pp. 279-288


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pp. 289-292

About the Author

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p. 293


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E-ISBN-13: 9780814759929
E-ISBN-10: 0814759920
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814756201
Print-ISBN-10: 0814756204

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2000

OCLC Number: 53482661
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dance Hall Days

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Subject Headings

  • Sex role -- United States -- History.
  • Leisure -- United States -- History.
  • Working class -- United States -- History.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- History.
  • Man-woman relationships -- United States -- History.
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