My first impression was that a taxi dancer was some form of prostitute that plies her trade in a taxi and that it was a term perhaps peculiar to Malaysia and maybe elsewhere in the 1930s, or there about, but which had long since drifted into obscurity. I wasn’t going to bother looking it up, but it was such an interesting-sounding expression that curiosity got the best of me and I decided to check it out.<2019 “Yangsze Choo’s new novel [The Night Tiger] weaves together several ‘tantalizing twisted strands,’ said Patty Rhulle in USA Today. In 1930s Malaysia, a boy sent to find his master’s severed finger crosses paths with a taxi dancer working to cover her mother’s mah-jong debts.”—The Week, 29 March, page 23>
_________________________A taxi dancer is a paid dance partner in a partner dance. Taxi dancers are hired to dance with their customers on a dance-by-dance basis. When taxi dancing first appeared in taxi-dance halls during the early 20th century in the United States, male patrons would typically buy dance tickets for a small sum each. When a patron presented a ticket to a chosen 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 earned. Though taxi dancing has for the most part disappeared in the United States, it is still practiced in some other countries.
Etymology: 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. Patrons in a taxi-dance hall typically purchased dance tickets for ten cents each, which gave rise to the term "dime-a-dance girl". Other names for a taxi dancer are "dance hostess", "taxi" (in Argentina), and "nickel hopper" because out of that dime they typically earned five cents. [also called “salsa ambassador,” “dance angel,” “party starter,” and “limo dancer”]
A more detailed and perhaps more accurate article tells us, among other things, that taxi dancer is alive and well — see What’s the Deal With Taxi Dancers?, March, 2017, at socialdancecommunity.com.
The following quotes are from archived sources:
<1891 “These characters pose the question of who committed the crime. There are, for example, a young sailor who is the essence of simplicity, a disillusioned hard-boiled taxi dancer, a philosophical cab driver, a . . .”—The Centralia Enterprise and Tribune (Centralia, Wisconsin, 28 November, page 5>
<1926 “What was the price Brierhalter asked when he had James Kelvin at his mercy? Money? Silence? Or was it Joslyn Poe he wanted, the bewitching heroine of the thrilling novel ‘The Taxi Dancer’ by Robert Terry Shannon.—The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California, 15 June, page 11>
<1950 “Pat McGinty is a home girl at heart. She enjoys cooking in her apartment after her night’s work as a Broadway taxi dancer.”—Daily News (New York, New York), 21 May, page 283>
<1987 “5 Dance Halls Seek to Import 500 Hostesses: ‘100 Beautiful Girls!’ beckoned the blinking marque at the downtown dance hall. Inside, however, as Latin rhythms blared from the dance floor, only a smattering of hostesses [taxi dancers] could be seen entertaining their customers at the soft-drink bar. . . . the new immigration law, which imposes sanctions on employers who hire illegal aliens, has depleted the supply of taxi dancers.”—Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles California), 28 October, page 67>
<2009 “Dance to the sounds of the 18-piece 10 O’Clock Big Band. The show includes a radio broadcast, period costumes, . . . jitterbug lessons, taxi dancing, swing dancing, prizes and a cigar lounge.”—The Tampa Tribune (Tampa Florida), 7 October, page 270>
<2016 “‘Sweet Charity’ The spirit of the 80s lives in one of Broadways most sensational spectacles. Set in and around a nightclub, this dance comedy/musical tells the story of a taxi dancer’s adventures and misadventures in the ways of love.”—News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida), 26 February, page W26>
<2019 “What is a taxi dancer? A taxi dancer is a professional dance partner – someone who will accompany you to milongas, group or private classes. Why do I need a taxi dancer? Venturing into the tango scene of Buenos Aires without a dance partner is exciting but it can also be disappointing when you are not invited to dance either at all or not as often as you would like to be. . . . A taxi dancer makes you feel immediately at ease and ensures that you can enjoy every moment of the Milonga and, as your understanding and experience deepens, your confidence and ability grows . . .”—taxi-dancer.com
Ken Greenwald – April 4, 2019