We all love the Charleston when it appears on Strictly – it’s guaranteed to make us smile with its goofy expressions, energetic slapstick moves and its great themes. It has been around in various forms since the 1920s and has developed so much along the way. It has also been one of the dances that have been a choice at some of our Ultra Ballroom events and is always popular with the dancers and the audiences alike.
Here is a short guide to its history and to get you started on some steps too…
The Charleston is a social jazz style dance highly popular in the 1920s and frequently revived. Characterized by its toes-in, heels-out twisting steps, it was performed as a solo, with a partner, or in a group. It was the most popular dance of the 1920s, this period of time was one of rapid change, female fashion was moving on considerably to emphasise the new freedoms that were available after the first world war had ended. Dress hems were lifted – although still below the knee the flapper style dresses were shorter, and looser to allow greater movement. The dresses were often beaded or fringed on the hems so again the leg movements were emphasised.
The length of the dresses was probably why the Charleston dance is so much about the twisting and lifting of the lower leg. The arm movements were in opposition and swung back and forth and up and down. The Charleston dances we see today on television dance shows today are much more athletic with gymnastic movements and lifts – all for the purposes of entertainment … it certainly works!!!
The dance …. Let’s have a go!
Charleston music is in quick 4/4 time with syncopated rhythms. In simple terms, you can count a Charleston 1, 2, 3, 4
In the basic step, you step forward on the right, tap forward on the left, step back on the left and tap back with the right. Once you get into the rhythm of this step you can introduce a slight bounce of the body and naturally, your arms will start to swing back and forth.
To achieve the technical “swivel” of the ankle (the one that Craig talks about so much on Strictly 😂) it’s important to relax the knees and ankles, you should raise yourself on the balls of the foot and swivel the heels in and out. It takes time but makes the dance look so effective and authentic.
Once you have the basic Charleston movement in hand you can develop your steps – the recognisable in/out of the toes and heels with opposite arms is always popular.
The important thing with Charleston is to let yourself go. The quirkier the more fun the better. Over the years our dancers at Ultra Ballroom have been incredible in their energy and enthusiasm …see for yourself in these pictures!