In the novel, A Girl Like You, Henrietta Von Harmon at one point decides to leave her job as a 26 girl to become a taxi dancer at the Promenade Club, hoping to make more money. While the Promenade Club is fictitious, taxi dancing in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s was very real.
Taxi dancer’s, or ten-cents-a-dance girls, operated in dance halls in various big cities across the country, including, of course, Chicago. Taxi dance halls were closed halls, meaning no women were allowed in except the dancer-employees themselves. In Chicago, these taxi dance halls began as instructional academies in which a man could come and learn to dance for ten cents a dance. They grew in popularity, however, with many of the patrons being already experienced dancers who simply wanted a venue and a partner to dance with. Eventually, the instructional component was left out, and scores of new dance halls opened, surpassing the large public ballrooms as being the most popular places to dance.
Naturally, these new venues became a haven for all sorts of different men, including those who might otherwise have limited social options. Thus a taxi dancer might find herself dancing with ethnic men; immigrants; older men; married men who perhaps sought a clandestine adventure; lonely, isolated men new to the city; fugitives with a criminal background; slummers – men who were of a higher income who wanted to see how the other half lived; and men with handicaps, physical abnormalities or who were just plain socially awkward.
In contrast, most taxi dancers were usually aged 15 to 28, with roughly two-thirds of them coming from fatherless homes, which forced them to contribute somehow to the family’s finances. Often, however, taxi dancing was seen as shameful, so many girls often hid their true employment from their families, creating a double-life of sorts, much as poor Henrietta does in the novel. For many, however, it was a way to make a significant wage, frequently making two or three times what they could make in a factory or a shop. Usually, most taxi dancers kept half the price of the ticket, also earning them the name “nickel hoppers” in some places.
Sadly, after World War II, most of the taxi dance halls fizzled out, disappearing altogether by the 1960’s.