Charleston can be danced alone, with a partner or in a group. Although the basic steps are danced at place, it reminds of the natural movement of going. The arms swing rhythmically back and forth, the feet form right angles to interior and outside and the body swings to and fro. The often burlesque movements encourage the spectators to spontaneous approval and interruptions.
Charleston is danced in the comparatively high speed of 100 beats per minute or more. Fast movements are supplemented often by slow, delaying steps and improvisations.
Past and Present
Charleston was born in the port of Charleston S.C. and brought northwards by black dock workers at the beginning of the 20th century. The first Negro musical ever played on a white stage "Shuffle along" had a great success, which caused a chain reaction in 1921. Looking for an attraction for the "New York Colonial Theatre", in 1923 the impressario found three boys (two coloured people an one Italian) in Harlem, dancing Charleston for money at a street corner. The very next day the trio was on stage and initiated with its spectacular performance of "Running Wild" the black period of Broadway and the wildest dance world of the twenties.
In its beginnings, Charleston as well as Shimmy has been a difficult dance with intensive body motions expressing more than the remaining swivels, knee actions and "windshield wiper feet" (which from time to time can be seen in Quickstep even today).
Charleston as well as Shimmy were known in the South of the United States before 1900. The white public could first see this dance in 1922 in the Negro musical "Liza". In 1925, the famous critic Gilbert Seldes described Charleston in his magazine "New Republic" as follows: "Original Charleston is danced with the whole body, not only with the legs as Foxtrot or Onestep. It uses movements introduced by Shimmy. Added are alternate X- and O-leg motions." A decription from 1925 says: "The torso trembles, in addition hips, thigh and bottom are in motion. Even the hands are active, they touch all parts of the body in ecstasy. In addition the alternate X- and O-leg motions ... the dancer can bend his back or even squat down."
Puritan Dance Masters of America disapproved of Charleston. From 1928 the dance was refined and restrained, to become a white ballroom dance. From the beginning of the world economic crisis in 1929, Charleston lost its significance, as most of the working-class population weren't able to afford this pleasure any longer.