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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rocking Round the Clock for Cash

There was a whole lot of shaking going on down at the Palace of Youth on Sunday night, as 17 jiving couples braced themselves to dance the night away -- literally -- for a $1,000 prize. Russia's first Rock and Roll Marathon, attended by several hundred amateurs as well as the hard-core rockers, offered the grand prize for the couple who could dance the longest.

"Whoever is still alive at the end of the night wins the prize," explained Yevgeny Khavtan, a member of the competition's jury and guitarist in the rock n' roll group Bravo, grinning. "It's a fight to the death."

The earnest couples began the mortal combat cheerily enough, enthusiastically boogeying, jiving, twisting and shaking to the strains of "Good Golly Miss Molly," "Rock Around the Clock" and other classics of the genre. Many of the fans and contestants were certainly dressed to kill, with greased quiffs, crepe-soled shoes (many, indeed, fashioned of blue suede) and gingham dresses. One couple were resplendent in matching a turquoise teddy boy outfit and baby-doll dress, another pair cut an eccentric dash with red-and-white striped, sleeveless pant-suits with detachable cuffs on their wrists, and a Woody Harrelson lookalike in a silver spandex shirt deftly tossed a nubile partner in baby-blue hot pants around the stage with acrobatic expertise.

"The criteria are very simple," said Alexander Olennikov, 52, of the Russian Federation of Acrobatic Rock and Roll as he kept a beady eye on the contestants to check that they were keeping on the move. "Other competitions are judged for style and poise. This one is judged for stamina."

As the hours passed and the bands changed, the energy of the contestants showed signs of flagging. Four hours into the marathon the smiles were looking increasingly glazed and the ballroom took on the distinct bouquet of sweat. Only the lure of the $1,000 prize, sponsored by Coca Cola, kept the hopefuls bopping. One of the early casualties was 45-year-old Sergei Bodrov, the oldest competitor, who nevertheless held out for a full five hours.

"We all knew what rock n' roll music was in the old days, because the authorities criticized it as Western decadence," panted Bodrov, an engineer. "But I never learned how to dance rock and roll until perestroika. It's very wholesome fun and good physical exercise."

A brief respite for the ever more desperate dancers came with a somewhat bizarre display of body art, a genre which has found favor with many young male artists and involves using the naked bodies of young women as canvases. On a brightly-lit raised platform to the side of the stage and flanked by hefty bouncers, the body artists were at work, attracting almost as large a gathering of spectators as the dancing itself.

"I am inspired by rock and roll," mused body artist Vladimir Volegov as he put the finishing touches to a portrait of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe which graced the buttocks of 17-year-old Anya.

"I don't listen to Elvis very often," she confided, smarting from the cold spray of the airbrush. "But art is art."

The night dragged on, the crowds dispersed, rosy-fingered dawn spread over the Moscow sky and at half past four in the morning, after eight and a half hours of near-continuous dancing, two couples were left, locked in an epic battle.

"It looked like they could go on till noon," said a weary Gavrilov, speaking from his bed on Monday morning. "The judges had to step in to decide the winners so that everyone could go home."

The ones who looked more alive -- Natalia Lachugova and Oleg Burko -- won.