Two of the most ferocious dance-hall girls in the Yukon in the 1880s were called the Oregon Mare and the Grizzly Bear. Neither could be described as pretty; the Grizzly’s appearance was really fearsome because she had had one eye gouged out in a fight. The continued presence of these two in the dance hall was due to the simple fact that men were afraid to turn them down for a drink and dance. When annoyed, the Oregon Mare kicked her antagonist repeatedly on the shins with sharp shoes. The Grizzly Bear’s technique was even more painful. A “mountain of a woman,” with arms and shoulders like a stevedore, she would grab and hug her victim until his ribs cracked.
It wasn’t hard to understand why these two terrors were so determined to hold onto their jobs, for dance-hall girls racked in a lot of loot for swinging around the floor with the bearded, sweaty, and odiferous men. The lusty polkas, quadrilles, and waltzes were exhausting, but most of the girls were brawny amazons who could take the punishment. The dance halls paid the girls a salary of about $50 a week, in addition to which the dancers received twenty-five cents out of every dollar spent on their partners. Thus, most girls collected about $200 a week. Besides, since the dance-hall girls had the first crack at the sourdough, there was always the possibility of marrying one who had struck it rich out on the creeks. One prospector from Chicago became so enthused by the charms of one of the girls that he hurled a poke of nuggets at her as she spun around the dance floor. Unfortunately, the gold-filled sack broke her cheekbone. The contrite prospector lolled around his loved one during her traumatic illness and when she recovered, found himself taking vows before a preacher.