The Charleston dance steps were at one time some of most scandalous and licentious moves in our culture. Now the dance is a staple in the Lindy Hop and other dance competitions, with innovative and improvisatory choreography being added all the time.
Though ragtime usually accompanies the Charleston, it doesn't matter what kind of music is playing as long as it matches the number of moves. In fact, in the video game Mortal Kombat one of the characters dances the Charleston in a "friendship" move. Any 4/4 time selection of music, with a fast (200 - 300 beats per minute) pace will work.
Basics of the Charleston
The primary format of the Charleston is a solo step that consists of four moves, arms and legs in complementary motion. Step by step, the legs and arms do as follows:
Legs-- or The Kick
- Step back on the right leg.
- Swing the left leg back in a kicking motion, keeping the ankle loose.
- Bring the left foot forward and step, returning to the starting position.
- Kick the right foot forward, keeping it loose.
- Repeat from step 1, until you collapse or feel the need to add more moves.
Arms-- or That's Why They're Called Flappers
- The arm motion is complementary to the feet - that is, just as if you were walking. Since the right leg goes back first, the left arm will go up first, and vice versa.
- Once the motion is worked out, the positioning of the arms needs to be made less loose. The elbows should be crooked at ninety degrees.
- All the movements should be exaggerated, arms held high and as they swing let them move in circular motions to the right and left.
Mixing it Up
Moving beyond the basic Charleston is something that most dancers want to do fairly quickly, as this dance is so easy to learn. There are two forms of Charleston, 'Solo' and 'Partner', as well as different genres named after the time period during which they developed. '20s', '30s, and 40s' Charleston dance styles are the most common.
A very showy and fast-paced form, dancers will punctuate their choreography with moves that are not actual Charleston dance steps. Slower, dragging improvisations, as well as moves from other period dances such as the Cakewalk are included. A very expressive form of the dance, 20s Solo Charleston is often danced socially in large groups, much like a mosh pit in a rock concert (but with less body passing).
While the feet continue to move in the basic Charleston, the arms and torsos in 20s Partner Charleston are in "closed position." This means that partners are in the traditional formal dance pose, the lead's right hand between the follow's shoulder blades, left hand clasping their partners in a good, solid dance frame. Because of the close proximity, forward and backward motion as well as weight shifting are kept smaller than in the Solo form.
30s and 40s Charleston Dance Steps
The closed position of the 20s Partner style opens up in the 30s and 40s. Some of these other styles include:
- Jockey Position - A simple opening of the closed position so that both dancers face towards the line of dance, while remaining in contact with each other.
- Side by Side - The leads arm is at the follow's lower back, with their arm up on the leads shoulder. Each dancer's free arm then swings in the same motion as the basic Charleston dance steps.
- Tandem - One partner or the other stands in front, and their legs use the same steps forward and back. Hands are held together, starting at hip level but swinging in the traditional Charleston motion.
Like other forms of Swing Dance, the names of the steps vary from area to area as enthusiasts add to the canon of the dance form. Other forms of 30s and 40s Charleston moves are no exception, such as:
- Hand to Hand
- Johnny's Drop
- Savoy kicks
Regardless of the form, the Charleston has stood the test of time and proven itself one of the most popular and easy-to-learn dances of our culture.