Nevertheless, the Charleston dance became established (worldwide) during the Ragtime-Jazz period. The series of steps are thought to have originated with the African-Americans who were living on a small island near Charleston, South Carolina. Some say it is from the Cape Verde Islands in Western Africa. Historically, The Charleston, was performed as early as 1903 in the Southern States.
As time went on it was being used as a regular cotillion step and finally made its way, all dressed up, (as we know it today) into Harlem stage productions by 1913 says James P. Johnson. Henry " Rubberlegs" Williams says it was the first dance he won a contest in the mid teens. (The CLIP on the right is a vintage "Flat or Face to Face" Charleston Instructional Short by Santos Casini and Jose Lennard.)
The now vintage Broadway show (5/1921) called 'Shuffle' Along' also had some Charleston dancing, but not yet recognized as such, they were just referred as the Fastest dancers ever seen or a Colored Cast Revue. In 1922/3, it was introduced to the theater going public at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York when the "Ziegfeld Follies," staged a dance act that featured the Charleston. Ned Wayburn was the choreographer, and Sissle (1889-1975) and Blake introduced a young African-American boy to Wayburn. The boy demonstrated what was to be the signature step of the Charleston. Wayburn supposedly choreographed a few more steps and Sissle and Blake wrote the songs ... it was an immediate hit.
In that same year, (11/1922) a stage play by the name of "Liza" had introduced the dance done by Rufus Greenlee and Maude Russell but went un-noticed. And yet again on October 29th, 1923 with the Flournoy Miller / Aubrey Lyles Broadway show "Runnin' Wild." Runnin' Wild was produced by George White who introduced a song and dance called the "Charleston" which was written by James P. Johnson. Elida Webb did the Choreography as well as alleging to have invented it (not true). The dancing was done by the shows chorus boys called the "Dancing Redcaps," who used no musical accompaniment except hand clapping and foot stamping. Edith Mae Barnes claimed it was she who introduced the dance in the 1923 show 'Runnin Wild' where it received its greatest acclaim. (The vintage CLIP on the left is "The Crawl Charleston Instructional Short by Santos Casini and Jean Mence.)
In 1926 Willie Higgie of Higgie and Brown, a well known Vaudeville dance act claimed that he invented the Charleston (aka Charleston Walk by him) in a back stage Theatre in Washington before Wayburn and was mad that Wayburn was taking the credit (Willie was not the person Wayburn saw before the show.)
In the 1920's, Women who did the Charleston were called "Flappers" because of the way they would flap their arms and walk like birds while doing the Charleston. Many Collegiate's of the period, predominantly the men wore Raccoon Coats and Straw Hats were part of the costume of the day. The Charleston changed many things in the dance community, namely dance was now not just something you did or watched, you could do both.
Not everyone had good luck with the Charleston. Many non-dancing jobs of the day required you to be competent to dance or teach the Charleston in order to get the job. Many waiters and waitresses would have to do the Charleston during their Job. Many saw the Charleston and Flappers as the downfall to many moral issues of the day. In 1925, Variety magazine reported that in Boston, the vibrations of Charleston dancers were so strong that the dancers caused the "Pickwick Club" (a tenderloin dance hall) to collapse, killing fifty of its patrons.
Movie Personalities ...
1) "Bessie Love" has been recorded as doing the first "On Screen" Charleston in the 1925 film 'King on Main Street'.
2) "Joan Crawford" won many Charleston contests including the "Movie Weekly Stage Contest," which helped her movie career get started.
3) "Ginger Rogers" won Texas State Charleston contest at the "Texas Hotel" in Fort Worth, Texas. After she won, she headed for the Grand Championships at the "Baker Hotel" in Dallas Texas on November 9th, 1925 which she won again and that began Miss Rogers career in the movies. (The following year she lost to the Sullivan's)
4) In February of 1926, Jim & Louise Sullivan won the National World Charleston Championships with Ginger Rogers placing second (or reportedly third.) It was held in Chicago, IL. at the Beach Hotel's "Trianon Ballroom." Tom Sheehy sponsored this contest.
5) "Bee Jackson" was also a world Charleston champion (year unknown.) and was noted as starting the Charleston craze.
6) Dottie Wilson danced the CHARLESTON in Harry Carroll's Revue in 1924 (Hayfoot-Strawfoot Charleston).
In 1926 a dance called the "Black Bottom" became the craze and briefly replaced the Charleston all together with the exception of it being done in the Lindy Hop (In 1927 "ShortyGeorge" Snowden renamed the Breakaway the Lindy Hop.) However, the popularity of the Charleston would last and be re-introduced over and over again over the years, unlike the Black Bottom. The Lindy had integrated many of the Charleston steps into the Breakaway, thus creating a new dance structure he called the Lindy Hop. The "Mashed Potato" was a later day form of Charleston and can be seen repeatedly in today's modern "West Coast Swing," which is a part of "funky swing" (West Coast Swing done to Contemporary/Funk Music.) The Charleston can be done as a solo or couple dance.
Some Partner Charleston pattern names are:
Back Charleston, Face to Face Charleston, Flying Charleston, Hand to Hand Charleston, Same Foot Charleston, Crossed Arm Charleston, Crawl Charleston, Flat Charleston, etc.