This is How to Dance the Charleston—and Why You Should Learn
Lace up those dancing shoes.
No dance floor? No problem. Learn the Charleston (and the Shag), and you can take the party with you. Named for none other than Charleston, South Carolina, this dance gained popularity in the U.S. thanks to a 1923 song from the Broadway show Runnin’ Wild, which was composed by James P. Johnson. The song, aptly named “The Charleston,” became a runaway hit. The dance of the same name became an American favorite during the Roaring Twenties.
The 1920s were a time of widespread prosperity in the U.S., and the Charleston was a signature dance of the era. The moves that accompanied the tune were popularized by the choreographed Broadway dance number. The steps were designed for mass appeal, and they were adopted and adapted as they made their way through the dance halls and living rooms of the era.
The Charleston can be danced alone or with a partner, and the basic step is done in eight-count movements. It’s easy enough to transport yourself to a 1920s speakeasy by learning how to dance the Charleston. Master just a few of those energetic Charleston moves, and you'll be searching for a dance floor (and an audience) in no time.
Step 1: Begin with your palms parallel to the floor.
Step 2: Step forward with your left foot. Move your right foot forward, and tap it in front of your left.
Step 3: Step backward with your right foot. Then step backward with your left foot, and tap it behind your right.
Step 4: Swing your arms side to side or back and forth as you move your feet.
Step 5: Add a twisting movement by balancing on the balls of your feet and moving your heels in and out as you step forward and backward. This will get your knees moving in and out (or together and apart), a jazzy characteristic of the dance.
In the 1930s and 40s, the Charleston began to meld with the Lindy Hop, a style of dance born in Harlem in the 1920s that developed from the improv that was characteristic of African-American dance of the era. This new Charleston was suited to the swing music of the 30s and 40s and is known as the Lindy Charleston or Swing Charleston. While the short, flapper-style dresses of the 1920s ensured enough range of movement for dancers to kick up their heels, the Charleston diminished in popularity as hemlines fell in the 30s.
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Do you dance the Charleston? Impress your friends by breaking out these moves at the next wedding reception or Jazz Age-themed party you attend.