What is the Charleston?

Today Charleston is an important dance in Lindy Hop dance culture, danced in many permutations: alone (solo), with a partner or in groups of couples or solo dancers. The basic step allows for a vast range of variations and improvisation. Both the 1920s and Swinging Charleston styles are popular today, though swinging Charleston is more commonly integrated into Lindy Hop dancing.

Solo

Charleston can be danced solo, or with a partner. Its simple, flexible basic step making it easy to concentrate on styling, improvisation and musicality.

Whichever style of Charleston one chooses, whether dancing alone, with a partner, or in groups, the basic step resembles the natural movement of walking, though it is usually performed in place. The arms swing forward and backwards, with the right arm coming forward as the left leg ‘steps’ forward, and then moving back as the opposite arm/leg begin their forwards movement. Toes are not pointed, but feet usually form a right angle with the leg at the ankle. Arms are usually extended from the shoulder, either with straight lines, or more frequently with bent elbows and hands at right angles from the wrist (characteristics of many African dances). Styling varies with each Charleston type from this point, though all utilise a ‘bounce’.

Solo 20s Charleston

Solo 20s Charleston has recently gained popularity in many local Lindy Hop scenes around the world, prompted by competitions such as the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown (in 2005 and 2006 particularly) and workshops in the dance taught by high profile dancers such as the Harlem Hot Shots (formerly known as The Rhythm Hot Shots) and a range of independent dancers. Usually danced to hot jazz music recorded or composed in the 1920s, 20s solo Charleston is styled quite differently to the Charleston associated with the 1930s, 1940s and Lindy Hop, though they are structurally similar.

Solo 20s Charleston is usually danced to music at comparatively high tempos (usually above 200 or 350 beats per minute, with tempos above 300 BPM considered ‘fast’), and is characterised by high-energy dancing. Faster movements are often contrasted with slower, dragging steps and improvisations.

As it is danced today, solo 20s Charleston often combines not only steps from dances associated with the 1920s (such as the Black Bottom and the Cakewalk), but also jazz dance. The most valued form of solo 20s Charleston combines choreography with improvisation and creative variations on familiar dance steps. Above all, the most popular and most “successful” solo 20s Charleston dancers respond to the music in creative ways to express themselves.

Solo 20s Charleston is often danced in groups on the social dance floor or in formal choreography.

(from Wikipedia)