Christine Fletcher’s novel, Ten Cents a Dance, explores the world of taxi dancing in Chicago around the time of World War II. The book follows Ruby Jacinski, a poor sixteen-year-old girl, who is sick and tired of working in the slaughterhouse for next to nothing. Her mother has rheumatoid arthritis and cannot work, so Ruby has to quit school to earn money for the family. She eventually comes across what she believes is a solution to her financial woes: taxi dancing at the Starlight Dance Academy. Men would pay her ten cents a dance. The Starlight would get half, and she’d take a nickel for every dance. Add tips in, and Ruby thinks she’s rolling in dough. Soon, though, the money begins to run out. It just never seems to be enough.
After a scary run-in with a customer who loaned her some money, Ruby thinks she’s got a handle on things. Her mother thinks she’s a telephone operator, and her sister doesn’t seem to know what’s going on. Ruby’s also got a serious boyfriend, local ne’er-do-well, Paulie Suelze. He’s helped her out of a few jams, and he always seems to know when she needs a little help. If only he wouldn’t keep pressuring her to do things she’s really not ready for.
Ruby soon realizes that her world is slowly unraveling. Her new life has lost some of its luster, she’s lying to nearly everyone, Paulie is not the guy she thought he was, and the world is at war. Can she straighten things out before her life is destroyed completely? How is it even possible that she’s sunk so far so fast? Read Ten Cents a Dance to learn what one girl will do to escape a life she’s not sure she ever wanted.
As someone who is fascinated with the WWII era, I really enjoyed Ten Cents a Dance. I knew a little about taxi dancing, but this book shed new light on it. I knew this “occupation” began in the speak-easies of the 1920’s and continued through WWII. I didn’t know, however, that there are still taxi dancers in some major cities today. Through this novel, it is easy to see how quickly girls could be drawn in by the money and attention and how easily things could also go horribly wrong. Readers will root for Ruby to clean her life up and become the person she should be.