Charleston – Historical

Filed under Historical Korner

Another Dance Associated With The Swing Era & Is Hard To Separate From Your Lindy Hop Dancing Is That Of The Charleston.

Abit Of Research And Background:

The Charleston may have a long history. The Branle of 1520 is presumed to be very similar to the Charleston. As far as an African-American influence, most dance historians summarize that the “Ash-Ante (Ashanti) Peoples” of Africa to be the originator. On the other hand, there are descriptions and pictures to a dance in the Harper’s Weekly Magazine (October 13th. 1866) that is very similar to the Charleston (which was most likely the Branle).

Nevertheless, the Charleston dance became established (worldwide) during the Ragtime-Jazz period. The series of steps are thought to have originated with the African-Americans who were living on a small island near Charleston, South Carolina. And some say it is from the Cape Verde Islands in Western Africa. The Charleston, was performed as early as 1903 in the Southern States. As time went on it was being used as a regular cotillion step and finally made its way, all dressed up, (as we know it today) into Harlem stage productions by 1913 says James P. Johnson. Henry ” Rubberlegs” Williams says it was the first dance he won a contest in the mid teens.

The 1921 show called ‘Shuffle’ Along’ also had some Charleston dancing, but not yet recognized as such, they were just referred as the Fastest dancers ever seen or a Colored Cast Revue. In 1922/3, it was introduced to the theater going public at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York when the “Ziegfeld Follies,” staged a dance act that featured the Charleston. Ned Wayburn was the choreographer, and Sissle (1889-1975) and Blake introduced a young African-American boy to Wayburn. The boy demonstrated what was to be the signature step of the Charleston. Wayburn supposedly choreographed a few more steps and Sissle and Blake wrote the songs … it was an immediate hit.

In that same year, (11/1922) a stage play by the name of “Liza” had introduced the dance done by Rufus Greenlee and Maude Russell but went un-image 225x300noticed. And yet again on October 29th, 1923 with the Flournoy Miller / Aubrey Lyles Broadway show “Runnin’ Wild.” Runnin’ Wild was produced by George White who introduced a song and dance called the “Charleston” which was written by James P. Johnson. Elida Webb did the Choreography as well as alleging to have invented it (not true). The dancing was done by the shows chorus boys called the “Dancing Redcaps,” who used no musical accompaniment except hand clapping and foot stamping. Edith Mae Barnes claimed it was she who introduced the dance in the 1923 show ‘Runnin Wild’ where it received its greatest acclaim.

In 1926 Willie Higgie of Higgie and Brown, a well known Vaudeville dance act claimed that he invented the Charleston (aka Charleston Walk by him) in a back stage Theatre in Washington before Wayburn and was mad that Wayburn was taking the credit (Willie is not the person Wayburn saw before the show.)

In the 1920′s, Women who did the Charleston were called “Flappers” because of the way they would flap their arms and walk like birds while doing the Charleston. Many Collegiate’s of the period, predominantly the men wore Raccoon Coats and Straw Hats. The Charleston changed many things in the dance community, namely dance was now not just something you did or watched, you could do both.

What Wiki Added:

The Charleston is a dance named for the city of Charleston, South Carolina. The rhythm was popularized in mainstream dance music in the United States by a 1923 tune called The Charleston by composer/pianist James P. Johnson which originated in the Broadway show Runnin’ Wild and became one of the most popular hits of the decade. Runnin’ Wild ran from 29 October 1923 through 28 June 1924. The peak year for the Charleston as a dance by the public was mid 1926 to 1927.

Solo 20s Charlestoncharleston dance 1920s 300x209

Solo 20s Charleston has recently gained popularity in many local Lindy Hop scenes around the world, prompted by competitions such as the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown (in 2005 and 2006 particularly) and workshops in the dance taught by high profile dancers such as the Harlem Hot Shots (formerly known as The Rhythm Hot Shots) and a range of independent dancers. Usually danced to hot jazz music recorded or composed in the 1920s, 20s solo Charleston is styled quite differently to the Charleston associated with the 1930s, 1940s and Lindy Hop, though they are structurally similar.

Solo 20s Charleston is usually danced to music at comparatively high tempos (usually above 200 or 350 beats per minute, with tempos above 300 BPM considered ‘fast’), and is characterised by high-energy dancing. Faster movements are often contrasted with slower, dragging steps and improvisations.

As it is danced today, solo 20s Charleston often combines not only steps from dances associated with the 1920s (such as the Black Bottom and the Cakewalk), but also jazz dance. The most valued form of solo 20s Charleston combines choreography with improvisation and creative variations on familiar dance steps. Above all, the most popular and most “successful” solo 20s Charleston dancers respond to the music in creative ways to express themselves. Solo 20s Charleston is often danced in groups on the social dance floor or in formal choreography.

20s Partner Charlestoncharleston 229x300

In 20s partner Charleston couples stand facing each other in a traditional European partner dancing pose, often referred to as closed position which aids leading and following. The leader’s right hand is placed on the follower’s back between their shoulder blades. The follower’s left hand rests on the leader’s shoulder or biceps. The leader’s left hand and the follower’s right hand are clasped palm to palm, held either at shoulder height or higher. Partners may maintain space between their bodies or dance with their torsos touching. The basic step is for the leader to touch their left foot behind them, but not to shift their weight, on counts 1 and 2, while the follower mirrors the motion by touching their right foot in front of them without shifting weight. On counts 3 and 4, both partners bring their feet back to a standing position, but shift their weight onto the foot they have just moved. On counts 5 and 6, the leader touches their right foot in front of themselves while the follower touches their left foot back. On 7 and 8, both feet are brought back to the standing position where the necessary weight shift occurs to allow the basic step to repeat.

30s and 40s Partner Charleston

30s and 40s Partner Charleston involves a number of positions, including “jockey position”, where closed position is opened out so that both partners may face forward, without breaking apart. In “side-by-side” Charleston partners open out the closed position entirely, so that their only points of connection are at their touching hips, and where the lead’s right hand and arm touch the follower’s back, and the follower’s left hand and arm touch the leader’s shoulder and arm. Both partners then swing their free arms as they would in solo Charleston. In both jockey and side-by-side Charleston the leader steps back onto their left foot, while the follower steps back onto their right. In “tandem Charleston” one partner stands in front of the other (usually the follower, though the arrangement may vary), and both step back onto their left feet to begin. The partner behind holds the front partner’s hands at their hip height, and their joined arms swing backwards and forwards as in the basic step.

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  1. Cliff Bryant says:

    Hi, I saw your great pics of the 20′s dancers, The Hampshire & Isle f Wight Air Ambulance are having their Annual Ball to raise Funds for their Charity. In their Magazine we have an article publicising the Event and are having difficulties finding suitable photos of the Charleston etc to help fill up the article, may we use a couple of yours shown on your Web Site please, and if you do have Hi Res and other options that would be great. I await your reply. Thanks Cliff Bryant mob.07798 785 809

  2. Anonymous says:

    sweet dance bro

  3. Anonymous says:

    This is Fantastic reading for the Swing Enthusiast and will take all the confusion out of the way of what Lindy is and where it originated from. Good work Jus
    Love it……

  4. anna says:

    Another good researched article….!!!!! totally appreciated.

  5. anna says:

    This is Fantastic reading for the Swing Enthusiast and will take all the confusion out of the way of what Lindy is and where it originated from. Good work Jus
    Love it……

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