Encyclopedia of Dance: Charleston


The Charleston is a fast and energetic dance, characterized by ease and relaxation, gushing joy and slight playfulness.

Despite the scandalous reputation, at the beginning of the last century Charleston became the king of dances. Having begun his victorious march in America, he conquered Europe somewhat later. It was impossible not to be infected by the desire to dance this provocative, easy-to-perform dance. Chalston was performed both in pairs and individually. A popular line from the hit of the 60-70s performed by Tamara Miansarova: “Teach me to dance the Charleston” is still relevant today.

History of occurrence dance

There is no doubt that the Charleston has African American roots. However, there is no unambiguous data on where and how this dance originated. Some sources call the island of Cape Verde the birthplace of the Charleston, others call it the port city of Charleston (South Carolina), where, according to one version, Negro dockers danced during their moments of rest, repeating energetic simple foot movements, and according to another, the dance was invented by children from an orphanage. Be that as it may, the name of the dance is associated with the name of the city of Charleston. And its existence is recognized long before the triumphant appearance on the stage of the musical «Runnin’ Wild», where, along with the debut of James P. Johnson’s song «Charleston», the dance of the same name was performed. However, it was from this moment that the popularity of the Charleston began to rapidly gain momentum.

At first, to a greater extent, this dance was associated with young emancipated girls, who were called flappers (from the English — clapperboard), it was they who could afford to dance alone and demonstrate contempt for the old traditions in the dance. Despite the accusations of immorality and swagger, undermining the foundations of the spirituality of the nation, Charleston was carried away by all segments of the American population. There was no official Charleston training in dance classes, so wealthy people began to take lessons from their own servants: cooks, maids and laundresses, who mastered this dance much faster.

In general, there was nothing difficult in the performance of the dance. He was considered easy to learn, it was only necessary to learn how to make energetic movements with his arms and legs to fast music. On the other hand, the number of injured people has increased due to the irrepressible desire to put all the available energy and strength into the Charleston.

Charleston, unlike other dances, became both spectacular and performing: it could be danced and watched. The Charleston was brought to Europe by Josephine Baker, it was in her performance that the Parisian public saw this dance for the first time. Thanks to her, dance in Europe has become no less popular than in America.


Charleston had two powerful waves of enthusiasm — in the 20s of the last century and again — forty years later. But even now this dance captivates with the opportunity to throw out energy, get a charge of positive, reveal your creative potential.

What is a Charleston?

The Charleston has a syncopated rhythmic structure, in 4/4 time. The Charleston is danced both as a couple and solo. The basic step is performed in place or moving forward, backward and to the side. The step begins with an off-beat movement, when the heels are parted, the support is on the left leg, and the right one simultaneously rises in a bent position with a twist to the right and back. The same movement is carried out with the other leg. The off-beat movement is performed with closed knees. Hands move freely and vigorously.

The basic step can be performed by moving back and forth and sideways, as well as turning around its axis. The dance requires a lot of improvisation and, if performed in pairs, the main move varies in the positions of the partners and combinations of movements.

Features of the Charleston

Vigorous hand movements and characteristic turns of the feet are the main feature of this dance. It has certain features of ballroom choreography, namely the foxtrot, with the difference that the Charleston has a limited movement pattern and is most often performed on the spot. The musical accompaniment is represented by certain compositions of jazz and swing.

To make the dance incendiary, its performance must be approached with a special positive mood and ease.

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