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DANCE HALLS

DANCE HALLS. During much of the 20th century, social dancing was one of the major recreational activities in industrial cities such as Cleveland. During the peak years between the 1920s and the 1950s, there were over 150 dance halls accessible to Greater Clevelanders, not including several hundred more dance floors in HOTELS, nightclubs, and private halls. These included facilities extending to Conneaut Lake Park, PA, in the east; Meyers Lake Park, Canton, in the south; and Cedar Pt. Park, Sandusky, in the west. Although cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles had larger facilities, Cleveland became well known to musicians and bandleaders as a place to develop with a chance to move into a position of national prominence. One of the earliest social dances in Cleveland was held at Ballow's Hall in 1854. Dances at that time included the two-step, the waltz, and later the cakewalk and other syncopated steps. By 1910 popular sheet music started to appear with parts for dance-band instrumentation, and by that time dancing became viewed as an adjunct to other activities such as swimming and sports; several dance pavilions were built at parks built in the early 1900s. At EDGEWATER PARK, a dance pavilion overlooked a bath house on the beach below. GORDON PARK had a dance area in conjunction with a large bath house extending over the lake near E. 72nd St., and a park building at Brookside, off Fulton and Denison Ave., included a dance area on the 2nd floor. Another city pavilion was located at Woodland Hills Park, at Kinsman and Woodland avenues. The city pavilions were out of existence by the mid-1920s. Private AMUSEMENT PARKS opened at this time also offered dancing, in addition to a variety of other activities suited to families and group outings. Those with dance floors included White City at E. 140th and Lakeshore; LUNA PARK, where the dance pavilion was of generous size, with the dance floor at ground level; EUCLID BEACH, which had one of the finest dance floors in the region and which for a time offered outdoor dancing; and PURITAS SPRINGS PARK, which had a plain ballroom and also featured an outdoor dance area.

The society dance craze, influenced by the popularity of Irene and Vernon Castle, led during the World War I period to a changing social pattern. Before this time, dance halls were not always considered proper places for members of polite society; therefore, dances were generally private functions. Some of the more affluent and prominent citizens built their homes with a ballroom and party facility, generally on the 3rd floor, with access by special stairs or elevator. On the lower end of the social scale, saloons offered some dancing. Saloon dance floors disappeared after the 18th Amendment, the Volstead Act, took effect in 1920. They were replaced during Prohibition by supper clubs with a more sophisticated atmosphere that reflected the influence of society dancing. Some places violated the Volstead Act while maintaining an atmosphere of prohibition. Most hotels countrywide included ballrooms or party rooms to provide for dancing as well as other group activities. Many local hotels created their own special clubs, with guests of the hotel as potential clientele. Radio broadcasts originated from hotel supper clubs on a regular basis during the 1930s and 1940s, with some broadcasts carried on a national network, publicizing both the orchestra and the hotel. Numerous private clubs and fraternal organizations provided a hall in their building suitable for dances as well as other organizational functions.

With the increased popularity of dancing in the 1910s and 1920s, many localities enacted laws to regulate conduct in the dance halls, which were viewed by some citizens as potential havens for moral laxness between the sexes. By 1930 28 states and 60 large cities had adopted laws or ordinances to regulate public dancing; Cleveland developed Ordinance 690, defining regulations for dance places and dancers. Public Dance Hall meant any academy, room, place, restaurant, or nightclub where dancing was held, or any room, place, hall, or academy in which classes in dancing were held or instruction in dancing was given for a fee. The ordinance included restrictions on intoxicating liquor and gambling and required decorum of behavior and dress. Smoking was restricted to designated rooms. Dance hall inspectors were first hired by the city in 1929 to check places covered by the ordinance. By 1930 there were nearly 150 dance-hall inspectors covering the city. Dance halls also had an employee assigned to check decorum and dress. Dancing too close or cheek to cheek was discouraged. After a marathon dance contest held at the Old Taylor Bowl, at E. 36th St. and Harvard, the city ordinance was amended to prohibit such activities. Dance-hall activity in Cleveland reached a peak during the Big Band era of the 1930s and 1940s. Many of the major ensembles of that era, including those of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, played at locations in the Greater Cleveland area. However, interest in ballroom dancing declined through the 1950s as musical tastes changed, and other forms of entertainment such as TELEVISION became available. Ballroom and club owners experienced a rise in operating expenses and increased fees for bands. That, along with diminishing attendance, especially in some urban areas where social unrest brought a few roving gangs to disrupt dances, forced many operations to close or cut back their schedules. Owners changed their halls from dancing to party centers, roller rinks, bowling lanes, or a variety of commercial enterprises.

Although some dance halls existed during the 1800s, most of Greater Cleveland's most prominent, non-park facilities were built between 1900-30. The ARAGON, 3179 W. 25th St., was the last surviving ballroom within Cleveland until it finally expired in 1993. It was originally built in 1919 as the Olympic Winter Garden, catering to dances, roller skating, banquets, weddings, and prizefights; ownership changed in 1930, and the name became Shadyside Gardens. Several years later, after remodeling, the ballroom was renamed the Aragon, after one of Chicago's finest ballrooms. The Crystal Slipper, 9810 Euclid Ave., opened in 1924 as the largest and finest of the city ballrooms. Within several years the name was changed to the Trianon, after another famous ballroom in Chicago. This dance floor could accommodate 4,000 persons. Dances were held nightly, and popular name bands were featured for a night or short-term engagement. During the early 1940s, the Trianon, under new ownership, became the Trianon Bowling Lanes, which operated through the 1950s, when the property was acquired by the CLEVELAND CLINIC FOUNDATION; the building was razed to become a parking area. Danceland, 9001 Euclid Ave., operated as a dance hall with summer roof garden through the 1920s and 1930s, when, under new ownership, it was converted to a roller rink and renamed Skateland. By the 1960s, new owners converted and remodeled the building for commercial use as a food store and other shops.

The Ritz, 3705 Euclid Ave., was active as a roller rink through the 1930s, with the name changing to the Greystone and later to the Marcane, until the structure was given over to commercial use in the 1950s. Later the entire block, including the Cleveland Arena, was demolished. Bedford Glens, located off Glen Rd. in BEDFORD, began as a park in the early 1900s; soon a barnlike structure was built, and it became a year-round dance and bowling resort. Although the ballroom was successful, a fire closed it in 1944. SPRINGVALE BALLROOM AND COUNTRY CLUB, 5871 Canterbury Rd., N. OLMSTED, was still operating in the 1990s. It was built in 1923 by the Biddulph family, who managed it throughout its history. This ballroom was remodeled on at least 2 occasions, and in the 1990s dances were held four nights a week. Only a few dance halls continued to operate in the 1990s, and these averaged fewer than 2 nights of dances per week. Hotels, clubs, and fraternal organizations continued to hold special dances: one restaurant, Swingos at the Statler, regularly scheduled Sunday brunches with dancing, capitalizing on a revival of interest in Big Band music during the 1980s. However, despite predictions of a revival of ballroom dancing and music, such activities continued only at a minor level in the 1990s when compared to their peak period of popularity during the 1930s and 1940s.

Robert Strasmyer


See also MUSIC, POLKAS, JAZZ.

Selected List of Dance Halls and Ballrooms in Cuyahoga County