When you hear the 1920s
When you hear the 1920s, what do you think about? Lavish parties, flapper girls, and the dances. One, in particular, is the Charleston. In this essay, I’m going to talk about where the Charleston originated from, who made the Charleston popular, who dance the Charleston the most, and how the Charleston affected dances after it.
We all that the Charleston was a 1920s dance but, not a lot of people know what inspired it. Similar steps of the Charleston were found in Trinidad, Nigeria, and Ghana but, the earliest account of the dance was in 1903. At the time it was an Afro-American folk dance proximity in Charleston, South Carolina. The dance was much rowdier with foot stomps and hand claps with complex rhythms accompanying it. The Charleston wouldn’t become mainstream until 1923 with the production of the play Runnin Wild. This was the start of the Charleston craze.
Runnin Wild is an Afro-American play performed in the New Colonial Theatre in New York City, New York. The Charleston made its stage debut during the first act of the song Charleston. The song Charleston was composed by James P. Johnson specifically for the dance. A 4 count beat to make it easier for dancers to add their own style to the dance. The once wild dance was turned into something more manageable that the general public could do. The foot stomps and hand claps were replaced with high kicks and foot taps at the end.
Now, this is where things get complicated. Like any popular dance, the Charleston was a social dance. Social dance is a group of people dances to music for entertainment or enjoyment. Social dance movements don’t usually have set steps to how you do them. There is just a certain way that helps distinguish the dance from others. The Charleston is no exception to this. Doing the Charleston involved moving your feet and kicking your leg up high but, there were other ways to do the dance. Like adding in spins or moving your arms a certain way. By the 30s and 40s, the Charleston had its very own spin-offs.
Before I get to that, I want to talk about the people who did the dance the most during the 20s. The 1920s were all about changing the way society operated and viewed things. One of those views was women. Women were gaining more independence so, they started cutting their hair and wearing more revealing clothing. These women became flappers. Flappers were all about the Charleston because of its wild nature. It was their way of saying that they were free to do as they pleased. Little by little men started to join in on the craze. Couples could also do the Charleston together doing the dance within close range of each other.
The 1930s came around and the Charleston had completely changed. Fast paced jazz music had become swing jazz music so the dance was modified to fit the new tempo. The new variations of the dance are connected to a dance called Lindy Hop. These were sometimes called Lindy Charleston or Savoy Charleston. The dances had the same basic steps as the original Charleston but with a few differences. There were less high kicks and more people dance with a partner. After the 1940s, the Charleston will slowly disappear from the general public’s thoughts.
The Charleston has had a great impact on the way we dance today. The Charleston helped inspire the Lindy Hop which would go on to inspire more dances. The 1980s rap group Kid n’ Play’s dance move “The Kid n’ Play Kickstep” uses a lot of the Charleston steps. There are groups of people who devote their time to dance the Charleston to this day. The Charleston references in pop culture still to this day. That just shows how important the Charleston was for our society.