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Streetswings Dance History Archives: CHARLESTON
Charleston Dance History Origin and Evoution Title      The Charleston origins may have a long history. The Branle of 1520 is presumed to be very similar to the Charleston. As far as an African-American influence, most dance historians summarize that the "Ash-Ante (Ashanti) Peoples" of Africa to be the originator. On the other hand, there are descriptions and pictures to a dance in the Harper's Weekly Magazine (October 13th. 1866) that is very similar to the Charleston (which was most likely the Branle).

     Nevertheless, the Charleston dance became established (worldwide) or evoled 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 then 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.


Charleston Birth Place

Charleston Creation Date

Charleston Creator

Dance Type

Charleston, SC c.1903 (1913) African-American Folk, Jazz, Swing

Excellent Charleston Music ~ Compilation Music CD's

The Charleston Era: Charleston Dance Music CD Cover (Our Pick 2) $ Charleston Compilation CD 1 The Charleston CD cover (Our Pick 1) Excellent Charleston Dance Music CD cover $ Jass Two Strictly Dancing: Charleston
$ Charleston Era (our pick 2) $ Nipper's Greatest Hits - The 20's
$ Charleston Days $ Strictly Dancing: Charleston
$ Charleston of the Twenties $ The Charleston (Our Pick 1)
$ Charleston Party $ World of Charleston, the

Charleston Sheet Music Covers

Popular Charleston Music Titles

(1857 - Charleston Schottische (??? location) Hear free sample 1905 - Charleston Rag [MP3] - Eubie Blake, (also 1919)
(1863 - Beauregard's Charleston Quickstep ??? location) Click to hear a free sample 1913 & 1923 - The Charleston [MP3] (Johnson)
(1882 - Charleston Blues (??? location) Click to hear a free sample 1919 - Original Black Bottom [MP3] (Bradford mentions it)
1920s - Charleston Baby Hear a free sample 1921 - I'm just wild about Harry [MP3] (Slam Stewart)
1923 - Charleston, the Hear f ree sample 1923 - Charleston Crazy [MP3] (Grainger)
1924 - Hayfoot / Strawfoot Charleston 1924 - Charleston Cabin (Reber)
1925 - I'm Gonna Charleston back to Charleston 1924 - Charleston Charley [MP3]
1925 - My Sugar 1925 - Charleston Baby of Mine [MP3] (Dougherty)
1925 - Original Charleston Hear f ree sample 1925 - Charleston Ball [MP3] (Heywood)
- Charleston Gals ? Coon Sanders version 1925 - I'm Gonna Charleston back to Charleston [MP3]
- Charleston Rag (Eubie Blake) 1925 - The Original Charleston (Reds)
- Every one in the world is doing the Charleston Hear Eva Taylors cersion 1926 - Charleston Hound (Waller) (Eva Taylor)
- Jig Walk Charleston Hear f ree sample 1927 - I wonder what's become of Joe (Goofus 5)
- They're blaming the Charleston Click to hear a free sample 1928 - Charleston is the best Dance (Carter)
- Yiddisher Charleston Hear a free sample Charleston, the [MP3] (Paul Whitman)
  Hear f ree sample Charleston Mad [MP3]
  Hear a free sample Clap Hands, Here comes Charley [MP3]
  Hear a Free Sample Everybody's Charleston Crazy [MP3]
  Hear a free sample I'd Rather Charleston [MP3] (Adele Astaire) ($ Gershwin)
  I'm Gonna Chareston All The Way Back To Charleston (Coon Sanders)
  Hear a free sample Original Charleston Strut [MP3]
  Hear a free sample Runnin' Wild [MP3] (Ellington)
  She's Drivin' Me Wild (Jack Hylton)
  Static Strut (Original Memphis five)
  Hear f ree sample Sweet Georgia Brown(MP3Grappelli)
  Then i'll be Happy (Josephine Baker)
  Won't You Charleston With Me [MP3]
  Yes Sir, That's My Baby [MP3]
... see more Charleston 'TITLED' music

Night Clubs


Charleston Posters

Big Apple Nightclub - SC Daly's 63rd Street Theatre (1922) Charleston
Commodore Hotel Majestic Theatre (Famous Fain - 1925) Swing Kids (Movie)
Connie's Inn New Amsterdam Theatre (1923)      
Cotton Club New Colonial Theater (10/29/1923)      
Helen Morgans Polis - New England (5/1925 Charleston Contest)      
Old Parody Club            
Pickwick Club (1925)            
Savoy Ballroom (1925)            
Texas Guinan's            
The Silver Slipper            

Other Dances of the time ...

Aeroplane Waltz Castle Walk Hippohop Maurice Tango Shiver Shake
Apache Dance Charleston Honey Bug Maxixe Skirt Dance
Argentine Ardor Chicken Flip Hooche Cooche Mess Around, the Slow Drag
Arizona Anguish Collegiate Horsetrot Mooche, the Syncopated Canter
Bacchanalian waltz Collegiate Foxtrot Hug-Me-Tight Mooch and Sugar Tango
Baltimore Buzz Collegiate Shag Innovation Necktie Waltz Tap Dance (Charleston Tap)
Bambuca Dewey Dip Jazzarimba One Step Terripan Toddle
Black Bottom Dizzy Drag Kangaroo Canter Ostrich Stretch Texas Tommy
Boll Weevil Wiggle Fado Foxtrot Kangaroo Waltz Pavlova Gavotte Tiger
Boston Dip Foxtrot Kitchen Sink Peabody Toddle
Break away Funky Butt Lambeth Walk Pickaninny Dandle Turkey Trot
Bunny Hug Fuzzy-Wuzzy Lame Duck Pollywog Wiggle Two-Step
Buzzard Lope Gaby Glide Lemon Squeeze Puppy Snuggle Varsity Drag
Cabbage Clutch Gilda Glide Lindy Hop Quickstep Walkin' The Dog
Camel Walk Grizzly Bear Love Dance Salome dance Waltz
Cantor Waltz Grizzly Glide LuLu Fado Shadow Dance Whirlwind Waltz
Cartel Waltz Hesitation Waltz March Shimmy Wiggle-de-Wiggle
Click to View pop-up

Associated Charleston Films

Other Charleston Videos & Music (CD) at Amazon

Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1920's - Crawl Charleston Instructional Pathe Short $ Charleston Jass Two (CD)
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1920's - Flat Charleston Instructional Pathe Short $ Charleston Mad (CD)
Clip Not Available at this time 1920's - Syncopated Melodies* [DVD] $ Charleston Party (CD)
Clip Not Available at this time 1920-29 - 20th Century News Reel (17:07) $ Charleston of the Twenties (CD)
Clip Not Available at this time 1925 - Bobbed Hair (w/ Marie Prevost) $ Strictly Dancing Charleston (CD)
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1925 - Charleston Dance Contest Newsreel (the Sullivans) $ The Charleston Days (CD)
Clip Not Available at this time 1925 - King on Main Street $ The Charleston Era (CD)
Clip Not Available at this time 1925 - Ned Wayburn 'How To Dance Charleston' Films (Dir: Edgar Scott Spargo ) $ World of Charleston (CD)
Clip Not Available at this time 1926 - Charleston Dance Championships (The Sullivans)  
Clip Not Available at this time 1926 - Charleston in Six Lessons, the (Grauman's)  
Clip Not Available at this time 1926 - Charleston Queen  
Clip Not Available at this time 1926 - Love Em' and Leave'

Charleston Instructional Videos

Clip Not Available at this time 1926 - Mildred Unger dances the Charleston $ World Of Swing #6 [Instructional VHS]
Clip Not Available at this time 1926 - So This Is Paris      
Clip Not Available at this time 1926 - Social Celebrity      
Clip Not Available at this time 1927 - Charleston (sur un Air de) Catherine Hessling & Monkey      
Clip Not Available at this time 1927 - It! [DVD]


Clip Not Available at this time 1927 - The CrowD [DVD] 1921 - Shuffle Along
Clip Not Available at this time 1927 - Rolled Stockings 1922 - Liza
Clip Not Available at this time 1928 - Charleston, le (Renoir Short) 1922/3 - Ziegfeld Follies
Clip Not Available at this time 1928 - Our Dancing Daughters [DVD] (Joan Crawford) 1923 - How Come
Clip Not Available at this time 1929 - After Seben (This Scene is in ' (At the Jazz Band Ball [DVD]':| Shorty George) 1923 - Runnin' Wild
Clip Not Available at this time 1929 - Broadway Melodies 1924 - Harry Carroll's Revue
Clip Not Available at this time 1929 - Hallelujah 1925 - Famous Fain Bathing Girl Style Revue (Majestic)
Clip Not Available at this time 1931 - The Struggle [DVD] 1925 - Kansas City Junior League Follies (Wayburn)
Clip Not Available at this time 1937 - Big Apple [Paramount]      
Clip Not Available at this time 1938 - The Big Broadcast [DVD]      
Clip Not Available at this time 1939 - Roaring Twenties [DVD] (Era Stuff)


Clip Not Available at this time 1942 - Roxie HarT [DVD] (Ginger Rogers & Blk Btm) 50th Anniversary Show #2
Clip Not Available at this time 1949 - You're My Everything      
Clip Not Available at this time 1951 - Has Anyone Seen My Gal      
Clip Not Available at this time 1954 - Deep In My Heart [DVD] (Ann Miller)      
Clip Not Available at this time 1960 - The Jazz Age [DVD]      
Clip Not Available at this time 1973 - The Sting! [DVD]      
Clip Not Available at this time 2002 - Stork Derby      

Charleston Dancers, Choreographers etc.

1903 - Thaddeus Drayton * (10 years old) 1924 - Dottie Wilson 1926 - Ruth Conoley
1905 - Noble Sisle 1925 - Bessie Love 1926 - Virginia Bacon (Toe Charleston)
1909 - Coot Grant 1925 - Charles Elbey and his 10 Sunflower Girls 1927 - Catherine Hessling (Space/ Monkey)
1911 - Whitman Sisters 1925 - Jim & Louise Sullivan 1930s - Al Minns
1919 - Billy Maxie (Instructor) 1925 - George Snowden 1930s - Leon James
1920 - Henry 'Rubberlegs' Williams 1925 - Ginger Rogers 1938 - Ben Blue (The Big Broadcast)
1922 - Maude Russell 1925 - Joan Crawford 1940 - Ted Rogers
1922 - Rufus Greenlee * 1925 - LeQuorne and DeLong (Ritz) 1954 - Ann Miller
1923 - Chappelle & Stinnette 1926 - Bessie Lemmey Frances Williams (said to have introduced it)
1923 - Edith Mae Barnes 1926 - Bee Jackson George Raft
1923 - Elida Webb 1926 - Jim & Louise Sullivan Perry Bradford and Jeannette
1923 - Leonard Reed 1926 - Jimmy Lemay (Charleston Champ - Syc. Herald) Shirley ' Snowball' Jordan
1923 - Ned Wayburn 1926 - Ed B. Browning  
Santos Casini and Jose Lennard (Shown in top clip) 1926 - Lillian Gish (Lessons w/ Wayburn)  
Note: Once the 1930's hit, almost every dancer knew the Charleston, sorry if I missed a few 100 thousand NAMES here. :)

Books, Magazine Articles on the Charleston ...





Esquire's 1945 Jazz Book Esquire Magazine 1945 A.S. Barnes
Down Memory Lane Murray, Arthur 1954 Greenberg
Book: Jazz Dance, the Story of American Vernacular Dance Marshall and Jean Stearns 1964 DaCapo Press
Book: The Magic of Dance Fonteyn, Margot 1979 Alfred Knopf
Book: Ginger, My Story Rogers, Ginger 1991 Harper Collins

Fashion Books... (Great for Charleston and 1920's Costume Ideas)

$ 1920s Fashions: from B. Altman & CO. Altman & CO. 1999 Dover Pubns.
$ Sears - Everyday Fashions, 1909-1920 Altman & CO. 1995 Dover Pubns.
$ French Fashion Illus. of the 1920s: 634 cuts from La Vie Parisienne
Carol Belanger Grafton 1987 Dover Pubns.
$ Designs by Erte: Fashion Drawings & Illust. from "Harpers Bazaar" Erte (Romain de Tirtoff) 1976 Dover Pubns.
$ Shimmy und Charleston:      
$ Betty White: How To Charleston      

Charleston Musicians

Magazine Publications

James P. Johnson 10/13/1866 - Harper's Weekly Magazine
Noble Sissle 8/1921 - Ladies Home Journal Magazine
Eubie Blake 1925 - Variety Magazine
Sidney Betchet 1927 - Movie Weekly Magazine
Clarence Williams 9/26/1950 - Look Magazine
Columbia Reds 1958 - Teen Magazine (Sandra Dee)
  Life Magazines (Various)
  Max Held's Cartoons

Charleston Singers

The Smart Set
Alphonso Trents Orchestra Vanity Fair Magazine
Charleston Chasers  
Dixieland Jazz Band

Newspaper Publications

Sam Lanin Orchestra 8/30/1925 - NY Times: Charleston prances into favor
      5/26/1925 - Bridgeport Telegram (Jazzing The Jungle)
      12/1/1925 - Bridgeport Telegram (Wayburn Charleston Lesson Adv)
      2/28/1926 - Zannesville Signal (Bee Jackson)


2/7/1926 - NY Times: Charleston has captured Fifth Avenue
Queen of Navarre 2/17/1926 - Syracuse Herald (Willie Higgie makes claim)
Francis I & Henry VII - 1520 (branle) 3/24/1926 - Syracuse Herald (Charleston Music Gives Headaches)
  6/27/1926 - Havre News Promoter - (Ballroom Charleston)
  9/12/1926 - Charleston Gazette (Charleston actually the Branle)

Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your Charleston searches

23 Skidoo Ford Model-T Necking Renaissance
Betty Boop Cartoons Garter less Socks Oxford Bags (pants) Roaring Twenties
Bobbed Hair Gilded Age Patent-Leather Hair Rumble Seat
Charleston Knee (Ailment) Hip Flasks Petting Parties Sex
Collegiate It-Girls Prohibition Stockings
Dixie Dugan Cartoons Marijuana Raccoon Coats Straw Hats
[Special thanks to: Gloria Cotchonis for her father "Jim Sullivan's" 1926 Charleston contest information and videos.]


Basic Steps: (4/4 time) (SLOW=2 Beats of music)
(See blue Pic) Lead starts Left foot, Follow starts Right foot.
[8 count] 2 beats each - 1. 3. 5. and 7 accented beat counts.
(1-2) Slow, Single Forward Step (Lt),
(3-4) Slow, Single Forward Kick (Rt),
(5-6) Slow, Single Back Kick or Step (Rt),
(7-8) Slow, Point or Kick (back) (Lt)
(Note: Counts 7-8 can be Quick-Quick or Rock Step)
Basic Charleston Dance Steps (Visua) photo