The Charleston. I Must Dance The Charleston

Who here is obsessed with the 1920s?

/raises hand

I don’t even know why, but over the years I’ve become more and more enchanted with the Jazz Age.  My initial reaction to it was “blagh!” when perusing the 1920-29 Sears Catalog compilations…GAH, what horrible clothes!

Yet over time my perception of the 20s has changed, thanks in no small part to Callot Soeurs and Jeanne Lanvin, documentaries like “Prohibition,” shows like “Boardwalk Empire,” and, of course, the music.

The music…and the dancing.  They make it look so easy, those knee-twisting, Charleston-dancing girls, and the more fringe on their skirts the better.  I want to dance like that.

My love of Charleston burst into being after watching The Deco Belles dance a big, in-tandem Charleston routine at The Gatsby in Oakland, years ago now.  They were so charming to begin with, in their retro bathing suits and stockings, waving their giant Ziegfeld-style plastic lollipops in perfectly choreographed patterns, but it’s when those lollipops were tossed aside and all twenty of ’em took off in the most incredible coordinated jig of fancy footwork I’d ever seen, did I feel the insatiable need to do exactly the same.

Trouble is…how?  I mean…I had a vague idea of it, but…what exactly was going on with those twisting ankles and flipping feet and rolling knees?!

Years later (well, last Summer), I attended the Tahoe Gatsby, in my own little 1920s swim suit, and there was a hoppin’ jazz band, and I tried, oh I tried, to dance the Charleston, but it was a mess of flying feet and incongruous flapping about…and not in a swanky “flapper” way either.


It’s time to learn it right, so I’ve started with YouTube, and these videos I’ve posted here.  See how intimidating they are! but with enough practice Napoleon-Dynamite-style, I’ll get these moves down.

Meanwhile, enjoy these clips, and I hope they get you up and dancing too 🙂


  • Gabriella

    December 10, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    Love love love 20s! I have the WRONG figure, but I adore the clothes so much. I've been collecting "80s does 20s" patterns for a while now and am thinking I might attempt one for this year's Oakland Gatsby. I'll prolly be to shy to Charleston tho. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    December 10, 2011 at 6:31 PM

    Personally, I am no fan of the 20s, but I have always loved the way the Charleston looks! Those little kicks to the side are adorable, whether done by petite girls in bathing suits or edgy Lady Gaga in "Bad Romance". Thanks for the video compilation. 🙂

  • Moxie Tonic

    December 10, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    I'm with Gabriella: Love the era, but look terrible in the clothes!
    So if I can do the Charleston, ANYONE can! You must, must break it down part by part though – and make sure you have nice slippy shoes and floor, even better, start in your socks on a wood floor and just practice the basic right foot forward, left foot back, over and over and over, faster and faster. Did I mention this dance is exhausting?
    Once you can do that in your sleep, add that ankle twist in as you do the basic step. Then add in the arm swings, and finally the other parts of the dance. Really that basic step is key – even if that's all you do, it still looks pretty fab.
    Best of luck and have fun 🙂

  • Beth

    December 10, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    Cute! I personally feel most at home in the late 30's, the heyday of Lindy Hop, but I love a good 20's romp with a strong dose of Charleston thrown in! Charleston really does embody everything about the bubbling tumultuous world of the 20's.

    20's Charleston is really easy, just don't get bogged down in the twisty ankles yet! Just think tap, step, tap, step, like the guy in your last video showed. Do just that, over and over. Don't try that other fancy stuff he shows until you've really got the tap-step DOWN!

    Jenny's comment to find a Lindy Hop group is good, that's definitely where you'll find the most people who can teach you. Not sure if Reno has much of a scene? Maybe a local college has a club that you could drop in on.

    Or maybe we could have a Skype date for a Charleston lesson! 🙂

    Here's some more modern inspiration for you, in case you haven't seen it…and just so you don't get too intimidated, keep in mind that most of these people people are full-time swing dancer instructors, and spend all their time working on this stuff!

  • The Dreamstress

    December 11, 2011 at 7:52 AM

    The Charleston is easy – trust me, I'm hopelessly uncoordinated! All sorts of swing and lindy groups will teach it. It's basically centre forward centre, centre back centre. And the twisty ankles come later 😉

    And once you've learned the Charleston it's really easy to learn Balboa – which is the perfect dance to do in long, elegant '30s dresses with swirling hems!

  • Rowenna

    December 11, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    Agreed with everyone who said basic step first, twisty flair later. My local swing club will run a series on Charleston every couple seasons–it's a fun dance to learn with a group, especially if you learn tandem and face-to-face, too!

    I used to hate 20s clothes, too–I was convinced I'd look awful in them–that EVERYONE would. But you know what? I've met so many people who just looked smashing that I've changed my mind!

  • Lauren R

    December 11, 2011 at 9:11 PM

    Excellent advice. I will look for a Lindy group here in Reno … not sure what kind of dance community is out there, although I do know someone who teaches lessons. Maybe he could teach me. I've been practicing the basic step and can sustain ankle wiggles for a short time, but you guys are right, what an exhausting dance! I suppose it'll be great cardio 🙂

Leave a Reply

Discover more from American Duchess Blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading