Dance With Me

I recently read there has been a film made about a romance between a solder and a “taxi” dance set in Honolulu during WWII. I really want to see this because of my own experiences while working the Hotel Street area during my years as a police officer.

In the middle of Maunakea street, between N. Pauhi and Hotel Street, on the ground floor, was a small coffee shop that served hamburgers, sandwiches, plate lunches and coffee until 5 am, just down the block was Tin Tin Chop Suey,  which was next door to the Busy Bee “XXX” theater, and these were right below the Palace and Orchid Ballrooms.

Like most places open at that time of night, and located in this area, the food at either eatery wouldn’t kill you, and with Tin Tin was actually good. Tin Tin was often the chosen meeting place for members of Organized crime and their entourages looking for a late night supper.

The Busy Bee showed “Deep Throat”, “The Devil In Miss Jones”, and other porn movies, non-stop, for years. The same ones over and over. But there always seemed to be someone there.

Now, upstairs was a true bit of history. There were the Orchid and Palace “Ballrooms”. Picture a room almost half a block long, maybe two thirds as wide, with a band right dead in the middle. But you could cross back and forth, or go to the snack bar in the back. They were staffed with mostly young Filipino and Korean girls. Some of the girls were military wives trying to make a little money while their husband was deployed. These were what used to be called “taxi” dance halls. You paid for the time you spent “dancing” with the lady of your choice. You could spend the time talking with her, or dancing with her, but when you were done, you had to pay up. And, no hanky panky on the ballroom floor. Well okay, maybe just a little.

Your dances were counted by “Momma”. At each end of the ballroom, there was a desk mounted on the wall, there sat the evening Momma. She watched who was dancing with who, counted the dances, and then signaled the girl how many tokens or tickets she needed to collect from her partner.

The dances were counted by the number of songs the band played while you were with the lady of your choice. Since most of the songs were 1-3 minutes, it could add up really quick. Tickets were probably .25 to .50 cents at that time, or you could buy a token good for 5 or 6 songs for a couple of bucks.

But it was the patrons that always got my attention.

On a Friday or Saturday night the old Filipino men would come in to dance. Most of them had been born in the Philippine Islands and had come to Hawaii to work the sugar or pineapple fields. This was their time to cut loose.

They would wear their “Sunday best ,  brightly colored leisure suits that only old Filipino men could get away with wearing, for these were special nights out and it sometimes appeared they all knew each other. From the fields or from the ballroom, I was never sure. I certainly wish I had taken the time to sit and talk with some of them because I know there were some incredible stories in those groups.

Many of them were probably WWII veterans of the Philippine Island campaign’s and would have some stories to tell anyone that would sit and listen. Even if they had to pay.

The ballrooms were still open and operating during the 70’s and possibly into the early 80’s. Sometime in the late 70’s they became the meeting place for several young Samoan and Filipino gangs. They caused some trouble and started  fights on the dance floors and this created very hostile atmosphere. Fewer and fewer customers showed up and more and more young men just standing around talking were there. Nobody was making any money.

Eventually, these gangs were “encouraged”  to find other meeting places by several old time members of Honolulu O.C. who considered the ballrooms some sort of neutral grounds.

But the damage had already been done. The ballrooms eventually closed down and then the gentrification of downtown began.

But these are stories for another time.


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