The Charleston

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The Charleston: The Famous Song and Dance

CHARLESTON, SC – The dance. The city. The song. “Charleston! Charleston!” Kick forward, walk back, kick back, walk forward. Swing your arms and twist your feet. Shuffle, shimmy, and shake. The Charleston is one of the greatest dance crazes in American history, if not the greatest in the world. In the 1920s, it spread the globe like wildfire. And, it’s still being done today, now over 100 years old!

The Story of ‘The Charleston’

The Charleston is associated with ritzy Roaring 20’s parties, flappers, and the Great Gatsby. But, its roots come from the kids who would dance in front of the Jenkins Orphanage Marching Band. Jenkins’ band gained notoriety in the U.S. traveling from coast to coast and even performing overseas. The dance ‘The Charleston’ was coined by fans in northern cities calling for the kids from Charleston to do that ‘Charleston’ dance!

The song ‘The Charleston’ was composed by James P. Johnson. Johnson, inspired by the hot new trend of early jazz music and the unique ‘Gullah’ sound of the Jenkins Orphanage Band, transcribed a number of their songs to create ‘The Charleston.’ In 1923, it was featured in the American black Broadway musical comedy show ‘Runnin’ Wild.’ After that, the song and the dance became a national and international sensation!

Jenkins Orphanage Band

In the early 1930’s, Lindy Hop and Swing dancing became the hot new dances of the Golden Age. Lindy Hop absorbed everything that was happening and incorporating Charleston steps was natural. In Swing and Charleston there’s a saying ‘anything goes’, as long as it’s in rhythm, feels good, and looks good. The Charleston and Lindy Hop are both African American-born dances and complement each other perfectly!

100 Years of ‘The Charleston’

Leading us up to today, ‘The Charleston’ is still being danced by Swing dancers worldwide, and Roaring 20’s parties are still the rage. Especially, here in Charleston! We take pride in keeping the culture of Swing dancing alive and doing the Charleston in Charleston for entertainment and fun. The local Roaring Twenties Hot Jazz Dance Club even has a special line dance for ‘The Charleston’ that was choreographed and performed for the 100-year anniversary of the song!

About the Author

This guest post was contributed by Stephen Duane, founder of the Roaring Twenties Hot Jazz Dance Club in Charleston, SC.  If you want to be the life of the party, come out and learn this fabulous dance named after the city and inspired by the song! The Roaring Twenties Hot Jazz Dance Club teaches classes, performs, and hosts social dance parties regularly around town. It truly is a magnificent combination! It’s the Bee’s Knees and the Cat’s Pajamas, ya follow?

“Let’s do the Charleston, in Charleston, to the Charleston!”

–Bill McSweeney, Gatsby Orchestra

Swing Dancers with the Charleston Jazz Orchestra

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Stachia Simmons performing at Charleston Jazz