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Opinions differ to the origins of the Charleston, some historians have traced it to the 1520's and a dance called "the Branie" which was very similar to the Charleston, while others claim it originates from ancient African tribes. In it’s modern form, the Charleston was performed as early as 1903, featured in several Harlem stage shows by 1913 and was firmly established in the 1920's during the Ragtime-Jazz era. The women who danced the Charleston were known as "Flappers", a reference to the way they flapped their arms and walked like birds whilst dancing. The Charleston, and the "flappers" in particular were seen as the cause of the decline in moral standards; Flapper girls would roll down their stockings, wear shorter skirts and have their hair bobbed, as well as drinking, smoking and engaging in heavy petting!
The Charleston became well-known after it was featured in the musical Runnin’ Wild in 1923. It was from Charleston that the Lindy Hop and Jazz Roots developed in the 1930s. Today, with added innovations and improvisatory choreography, the dance has become quite popular all over the world.
Character: Flapper style
Movement: Outward heel kicks combined with an up-and-down movement achieved by bending and straightening the knees in time to the music
The signature move of the Charleston is twisty feet - the dancers feet should literally twist as steps are taken backwards or forwards. Dancers should have turned-in knees and toes, shifts of weight from leg to leg, and exuberant kicks and movements of arms and legs to the front and the side. As the dance can be quickly adapted, dancers tend to improvise the dance moves with faster steps.
Of all the dances, the Charleston has a huge potential for comedy and allows couples to put their own character into a routine. For example, dancers can include slapping each other’s bottoms or faces in their routine, or a Fireman's Lift for an exit!
Partner styles include:
Jockey Position – A position in which both the dancers face the line of dance while remaining in contact with each other.
Side by Side – Here the person leading the dance has his arm at the other dancer’s lower back and the other dancer’s arm at the leads shoulder.
Tandem – One partner stands in the front of another and they do the same leg steps just like the way we cycle in tandem.
In the photo: MELISSA JOAN HART, MARK BALLAS