The history of social dancing in the United States is very rich. Most of us heard of Lindy Hop or swing dancing. Though there were many amazing dance forms in combination with Jazz music, that dominated the cultural landscape in America in the first half of the 20th century.
In this blog I will make a quick overview of the popular social partner dances during the first half of the 20th century such as Cakewalk, Two Step, One Step, Fox Trot, Charleston, Shag, St. Louis Shag, Balboa and Lindy hop (Jitterbug).
Ragtime was a highly rhythmic dance music that became an international phenomenon in late 19th century. This music was always associated with dancing. As the music moved to ballrooms, the ragtime sheet music always had a. mark of an "appropriate" dance. The dances named on the earliest ragtime sheet music are the cakewalk, march, and two-step. Interestingly, at time all of those dances or a combination was written on a sheet. It tells us that there was lack of musical distinction between the dances.
The Cakewalk, also known as the “Chalk line walk” or “walk around” was a pre-Civil war dance developed from the original “prize walks”. Prize walks were held in the plantations of the Southern United States in the mid 19th century.
Prize walks were sort of carnival events. The slaves of southern plantations used to gather at their master’s house to enter a contest and perform a dance. In fact the dance’s name comes from the decorated cake that would be awarded to the winning couple.
Us slaves watched white folks' parties where the guests danced a minuet and then paraded in a grand march, with the ladies and gentlemen going different ways and then meeting again, arm in arm, and marching down the center together. Then we'd do it too, but we used to mock 'em every step. Sometimes the white folks noticed it, but they seemed to like it; I guess they thought we couldn't dance any better.
- Baldwin 1981
Basically the dance was about mocking the aristocratic mannerism of white people. Initially it was performed by men and Black dancers only. Later the shows saw the introduction of both women and Whites, usually performing in Black face.
By the mid 19 century, cakewalk began to enter the minstrel show acts. Slowly it became a part of American culture and entertainment. Though the dance was the first one to dissapear from the ragtime sheet music in around 1904.
The Two- Step
American Two-Step craze began around 1890. Before that it was the European dances that dominated American ballrooms. The Two-Step was a simple dance in 2/4 or 4/4 time that brought on marching chassés steps.
The Two Step flourished because it was perfectly suitable for dancing to marching tunes of John Philip Sousa. “The Washington Post” tune by Sousa fit the Two Step so much that the dance was at times called The Washington Post.
One of the most popular Two Step dances was The Circle Two Step (also called “The Paul Jones”), a mixer where the dancers began in a large circle, broke away with a partner for The Two - Step, reformed the circle and found a new partner, broke away for The Two - Step, and so on.
- Erica Nielsen, p. 38
Few decades later the new style The One - Step (and the Foxtrot) replaced The Two - Step dance.
The One - Step (a.k.a: the Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug, Grizzly Bear) came from England in 1911. At that time it consisted of a mere march forward, backward and a right turn, danced with military precision. When it was brought to America, it was adapted to the syncopated rhythms of Ragtime music by adding a run or “trot” (like a little galop, in a horse riding style).
The One Step, that became popular after the animal dances, however, eliminated all hoppings, all contortions of the body, all flouncing of the elbows, all twisting of the arms, and above all else, all fantastic dips
- Erica Nielsen, p. 17
It was like this until the ballroom couple Irene and Vernon Castle developed what was seen by the white community as a more dignified version of it. It took the name of the Castle walk.
However around 1917 One Step gradually fell out of fashion and disappeared from the ragtime music sheets.
The Foxtrot (also Fox Trot, The Fox-trot, Fishwalk or Horse Trot), is an animal dance, that later became a ballroom dance craze. As Nielsen and Kassing state, foxtrot might have originated from the 1913 (1914) vaudeville act by Arthur Carringford, whose stage name was Henry Fox. His two slow walks followed by 4 quick steps became known as “Fox’s Trot”.
However some attribute the invention of the Foxtrot to the Castles. Two professional ballroom dancers, who through their frequent performing foxtrot inspired many people to come to dance studios for instructions. You can watch The Castles dancing fox trot in public here.
In the 20s, English professional dancers and dance teachers found a new standardised way to adapt this dance to slower tempos. So the dance split into two ones : the “slow” foxtrot (also called English foxtrot) and the “Quickstep”. The quickstep being influenced by Charleston. The slow foxtrot by the Valse Boston.
The foxtrot today remains mainly a competitive American dance, thought in academies and dance studios. Equally one can also dance foxtrot in ballrooms at social events. During its development another spin off style came to be: the Pea body.
The Peabody is an American ballroom dance which evolved around 1914 from a faster version of the Foxtrot. What was called the “Quickstep” in England, was the Peabody in America, named after the New York policeman William Frank Peabody.
The Peabody was basically a unique, jaunty type fast fox-trot, done to ragtime music. Danced in an unusual couple position, called the “English”. Mr Peabody, was a big man. He simply could not hold the partner directly in the front. As a result the position is shifted.
The dance covers a lot of space on the floor. Peabody is essentially a fast one-step, with long, gliding strides and a few syncopations. The leader changes sides as he travels around the floor and adds promenades and simple turns as the dance progresses.
Here you can watch Ralph Kramden dancing his version of The Peabody to hot jazz music at a costume ball.
The One Step and Peabody went on to become the (modern) Quick-step in American style ballroom.
Charleston dance is a solo and a partner dance. Named after a Charleston city, its invention attributed to Jenkins orphan boys and has roots in geechie / gullah culture. In 1920's it became a national craze and reached international popularity. For more information on history of the dance you can read my blog, the History of Charleston dance.
Charleston dance as solo and partnered style saw stylistic changes between the 20s and the 40s. In the 20s it was danced to ragtime and early jazz music (New Orleans jazz). And in the 30s to swing music. Hence, we can say Charleston is a ragtime dance and a swing dance.
Closed face to face position was typical for the 20s style. The footwork mainly consisted of Charleston 20s twists.
The dance got a new life in 1930s in the Savoy Ballroom when it was merged with Lindy Hop. In the 30s and 40s the close embrace position opened out. Now you had "hand to hand", "side by side", "tandem" (when the follower stands in front of the leader) and break away positions.
Watch Al Minns and Leon James doing the Lindy Charleston in couple. You can see the style, footwork and couple position has changed. More importantly, the feel changed. It is swinging, has a 4/4 feel and looks more horizontal.
Swing dance is a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music from the 1920's to the 40s. During the swing era, there were many styles of swing dancing. Some that survived beyond the era include: Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and Charleston. Swing is a broad term. It's the name of the era, name of the rhythm, and a tern to describe group of dance styles.
Collegiate Shag or Shag
The Collegiate Shag (or "Shag") is a partner dance done primarily to uptempo swing and pre-swing jazz music.
It is believed that the origins of the dance are within the African American community of the Carolinas in the 1920s. Shag became a craze in the 30s and even the New York Times described it as a “fundamental dance step for swing”
The Collegiate Shag was extremely popular with younger dancers. Especially popular with those who prefer lots of action rather than the slow mellow style of Fox - Trot. Interestingly, since the 1930s the word “Shag” has been used to refer to a family of Jitterbug dances.
Shag dance does not strive for elegance. It is about energy and explosion. Its bouncy hops, kicks, exaggerated hand hold and gawky style give it a fun flair.
Prior to the 30s shag was probably known under other names like “flea hop”. It is as well suggested that the dance evolved from a partnered version of the solo Vaudeville/tap step called "flea hop". It featured a movement pattern that's very similar to shag.
One curious fact, in the late 19th century, "shagger" was a nickname for 'Vaudeville performer'. Perhaps, this Vaudeville slang was what inspired Lewis Hall (who claimed to have invented the Shag step in 1938) to give his dance the name "shag".
Alber Murray Shag
One more interesting video about shag dance is where Albert Murray teaches a shag class. Actually, his style of dancing shag got it's name as Albert Murray Shag.
Today Shag is an internationally popular swing dance style. Take a look at the contemporary shag dancers at one of the biggest events in the Europe dedicated to this dance - Barcelona Shag Festival
St. Louis Shag
St. Louis shag is a swing dance that evolved from Collegiate Shag, Charleston and Lindy Hop, which originated in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1930s.
The dance has an 8-count basic that is commonly composed of triple-step, kick, triple-step, kick. The St. Louis Shag is an extremely fast, closed position dance. The general speed for it is around 220-300 bpm.
In this video you can see Christian Frommelt and Jenny Shirar performing St. Louis Shag at Rock That Swing festival in Munich.
Balboa is a town in Newport Beach, California. In the 1930s, dancers at the Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach, California, created their own swing dance style. The club was a small building. It was simply impossible to throw wild acrobatics of the Jitterbug there. So dancers created the Balboa - a perfectly adapted dance to fast music and crowded ballrooms.
Balboa is usually separated in two forms. Pure-bal, that is danced in closed position. Bal-swing, where the dancers are separated and lot of turns are performed
It was a simple style of dance based on a close position, strong partner connection and easy footwork based on shuffling along the floor, although covering the least space possible.
When Swing dancers added a few Balboa steps in their dance style, a combo of the two was born: the “Bal swing”. This one allows the partners to break the close position, introducing more freedom into using turns, spins, even aerials, while keeping the original Balboa tradition and philosophy.
The Lindy (The Lindy Hop)
The Lindy Hop was born in the African-American communities in Harlem, New York. It was born to a sound of a new style of music being played in Harlem - swing. The musicians called this new rhythm “swinging the beat”.
The name Lindy Hop came from a dancer Shorty "George" Snowden. During a dance marathon the reporter asked Snowden what he was dancing. Just at that time in 1927 Charles Lindberg made a transatlantic flight and all the newspapers were screaming "Lindberg "hopped" the Atlantic". And so Snowden said: "Lindy Hop".
Snowden danced at the marathon with his partner Mattie Purnell. You can see them in this video. Shorty was doing the break away and the send outs, those were the predecessors of the swing out move. Swing out is the defining move of Lindy Hop.
According to Frankie Manning, the Lindy developed out of Charleston, the Collegiate and the break away.
The most famous Lindy Hop video is from "Hellzapoppin'" film, 1941
- The film features The Harlem Congaroo Dancers (so called "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers"):
- William Downes/Overalls & Frances "Mickey" Jones (0:39)
- Billy Ricker/Chef's Hat & Norma Miller (1:09)
- Al Minns/White Coat-Black Pants & Willa Mae Ricker (1:29)
- Frankie Manning/Overalls & Ann Johnson (1:55)
The history of the originators of the Lindy Hop at the Savoy Ballroom. In this video you can see the Ambassador of Lindy Hop Frankie Manning social dancing.
Somehow there is a confusion between the names Jitterbug and the Lindy. In fact, jitterbug is just a nickname for Lindy Hop. Some would say, it was a white name for the Lindy. the term jitterbug was in use after the 1940's.
The term actually had a bad connotation. It was used to describe a drunk person shaking from "jitters", or tremors. A person who had too much “jitter sauce” (illegal moonshine). As Al Minns describes, jitterbug was a name for people who were bad dancers.
The word “jitterbug” as well appeared in Cab Calloway's popular swing number "Call of the Jitterbug" in 1935. In this song we can hear that jitterbugging is connected with its drinking aspect.
Wizard of Oz and Lindy Hop
The film Wizard of Oz played a big part in settling the names. The producers wanted a swing dance scene and preferred the name jitterbug. “Lindy Hop” seemed like a very unfamiliar word with no direct association that would not get popular appeal. Jitterbug in the movie was actually a scary insect sent to Dorothy by the Witch. Once bitten the victims shall dance till they fall in exhaustion. Here you can watch the scene from the movie.
It’s very interesting and sad how this situation played on reputation of the dance. Lindy hop was just becoming popular and known to white audiences at the time when Wizard of Oz came out. The fact jitterbug, the name of the dance, and it's association with the witch created for some social groups an association with illegal, primitive and threatening dance.
Here is a fantastic video of Al Minns and Leon James performing jazz dances at the talk show "Playboy's Penthouse", hosted by Marshall Stearns. You can see them dancing Cakewalk, Charleston, Two Step, Collegiate, Break Away, The Lindy and The Big Apple.
References and bibliography
- Social dance: a short history. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London. Chapter 7. The twentieth century: Jazz and after by Franks A.H. 1963.
- "The Cakewalk: A Study in Stereotype and Reality" by Baldwin, Brooke (1981). Journal of Social History. Oxford University Press.
- Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History By Edward A. Berlin
- Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake. A social and popular dance reader by Julie Malnig
- "Peabody," in The Encyclopedia of Social Dance by Albert and Josephine Butler (New York: Albert Butler Ballroom Dance Service, 1971).
- Folk Dancing by Erica Nielsen
- Ballroom Dancing Techniques - The One Step By Anon
- History of Dance: An Interactive Arts Approach By Gayle Kassing
- Shag: The Legendary Dance of the South by Bo Bryan
- The Original One-Step (Newman, Dances of To-Day, 1914, p. 69)
- Ragtime One Step
- Ragtime dance. The One - Step
- What is Shag Dancing
- Lindy Hop, The original swing dance
- Cakewalks & Jitterbugs: The Marriage of Jazz and Dance
- Historia del Balboa: del Pure - Bal al Bal - Swing
- Vernon and Irene Castle Biography
- The Definition of Jitterbug
“Flippant flapper, trim and dapper, naughty, haughty, chic man-trapper. All together now, boys, ‘Has she got IT? Well, I guess. Clara! Clara! Yes! Yes! Yes!’ ” - The Akron Beacon Journal from Akron, Ohio
Flappers made huge leaps forward in economic, sexual and political freedoms for women. Colleen Moore, Clara Bow and Louise Brooks were the 3 most famous flappers in Hollywood in 1920's. They inspired the change for generations of young women to come, of how women were perceived and how they could act.
Thinking about women in America in the early 20s, we tend to immediately identify them with the iconic character of the flapper. Flapper brings up the image of slender women in short, straight dresses, long beaded necklaces, and bobbed hair, drinking gin and dancing the Charleston 20s. As Joshua Zeitz says, the flapper was most certainly a type, a “caricature”, one part fiction and one part reality, with a splash of melodrama for good measure.
The flapper is the symbol of the “modern” woman, who breaks out of the rigorous criteria of the Victorian Pre-War female model. She is claiming economic, political and sexual freedom enjoying the pleasures of life, dancing in the night club and listening to Jazz music. Flappers became the main cultural and historical trend of the Jazz Age. They were widely discussed in newspapers and magazines, sometimes critically and sometimes glowingly. There were flapper cartoon characters, flapper-themed songs, and plenty of cheeky slang was entering the public lexicon. And, of course, the new youth culture was a hot trend in Hollywood-land films.
The 3 famous flappers on silver screen
Flapper culture was arguably big business for Hollywood right up to the end of the Jazz Age. Hollywood in turn certainly had a major influence on flapper fashion and popular pastimes. You can’t help wondering whether films were imitating real-life flappers, or whether flappers were modelling themselves after what they saw on screen. The “flapper film” genre developed from 1920. With the film “The Flapper” starring Olive Thomas ( until 1929 when Clara Bow played her last flapper role in the Dorothy Arzner film The Wild Party (Ross 2000), testifies the pervasiveness of this figure in the imagination of the time.
“The flapper has charm, good looks, good clothes, intellect and a healthy point of view”- Colleen Moore.
Colleen Moore, "The Perfect Flapper"
Colleen Moore, born Kathleen Morrison in 1899, was the first sensational famous flapper on screen. She took her first step in Hollywood at age 15, and began her career during the silent film era. The turning point in her career came with a story called Flaming Youth (1923), which had been a scandalous, best-selling novel about “neckers, petters, white kisses, red kisses, pleasure mad daughters, and sensation craving mothers.” Colleen wanted the role of wild daughter Patricia Frentiss badly, so with the help of her mother she overhauled her screen image. Gone were the long curls, her mother cut her hair into a Dutch bob.
Colleen got the role in "Flaming Youth", and with it, she created a new screen type– the emancipated young girl who defies convention. She defined the Roaring Twenties with her bobbed hair, short skirts and rebellious nature. As F. Scott Fitzgerald later wrote, “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.”
Clara Bow, "the ultimate flapper"
Second of the 3 most famous flappers is Clara Bow. Miss Bow has never left the American and Western cultural imagination: she is perhaps the diva who more than any other has decreed the eternal charm of the flapper. There is something vital that conquers in her presence. It is the spirit of youth. She is a rampant Young American, the very symbol of being a flapper “(Clara Bow, Running Wild, Stenn 1988: 48).
Bow’s appeal had many facets. The writer Elinor Glyn describes ‘It’ as warmth, charisma, vivacity and apparently effortless charm. And in that sense, Bow was undoubtedly an It Girl and appealed to both men and women. There hasn’t been another one like her. Not only did she have the perfect flapper face and figure, she also radiated fun and excitement and spontaneity. On-camera, she was irresistible. America fell in love with on screen image of Bow because of her big-eyed, baby-faced beauty, but also because she was carefree, energetic, self-assured and breezily independent. Off-camera, she was 100 percent real at all times. (Deborah Kennedy about Clara Bow).
Having “it” means having a natural sex appeal, a vital magnetic force that attracts people. With “it” you conquer all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man and Bow had it!
The turning point of her career was in 1927, when she starred in the silent movie “It”, playing the part of Betty Lou Spence. “It” turned Clara Bow from an up-and-coming movie actress into the biggest movie star of the 1920s who in the process became a film legend as a result of “It”.
Louise Brooks, "sex symbol flapper"
She had that crisp pageboy bob, she had those strong, straight eyebrows, unlike the coy arches of her contemporaries. She was so slender and fit she seemed poised for flight. The most extraordinary things happened to her in her best films, and instead of visibly reacting and telegraphing emotions, she acted as the instrument to transmit them to us. (Review: "She doesn't act. She does nothing. Rogert Ebert)
The 3rd famous flapper figure on our list is Mary Louise Brooks. Louise Brooks was an American Jazz Age icon, Hollywood actress and dancer. Her innocent eroticism, along with her pale beautiful features and bobbed brunette hair, her rebellious temperament, her witty jokes and bold sincerity made her both a film icon and a symbol of the disdainful flapper of the 1920s.
She started her career as a dancer, she was the youngest member of the Denishawn Dancers. Joining the troupe and traveling to New York City to pursue a career in dance at just 15 years old. After an argument, she left the company and found employment as a chorus girl in George White’s Scandals and as a semi-nude charleston and burlesque dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies in New York City. While performing she came to the attention of Walter Wanger, a producer at Paramount Pictures, and was signed to a five-year contract with the studio.
After starring in a few Hollywood productions she moved to Berlin, where Georg Wilhelm Pabst hired her for the role of Lulu in "Pandora’s box". Lulu embodies the myth of the fatal woman: sensual, provocative, fearsome in her amorality but at the same time, like the spirit of the earth, an instinctive and immediate purity, natural in her quintessence. An authentic flapper in its essence!
Check this Documentary about Louise Brooks (minute 18.02 you can see some Charleston 20s dance):
How did 3 symbolic flappers change the image of a woman?
Colleen Moore, Clara Bow and Louise Brooks were 3 of the most famous flappers, powerful female sex symbols, in Hollywood. They are the flapper women who inspired generations of young women, who started imitating their looks, their sexual appeals and independence, their self reliant behaviour and aptitude. These flappers were greatly idolised by young females who began to believe there was more to life than being a housewife or stay at home mom.
Young females showed society that they were capable of becoming independently strong and making decisions on their own. Adolescent females knew that when they changed their lifestyle, they would be portrayed and perceived differently. They knew changing their lifestyle and ideology was the only way to gain equality even if society did not readily accept the change. It is worthy to note society did not seem too fond that flappers depicted the lives of young females who were independent, rebellious, and unfazed about how they were perceived.
The flapper, despite her notorious frivolity, was also a version of the “new woman,” who fought for independence, equality in marriage and pay and a political voice.
How these 3 famous flappers decided to approach life and change their own image became the starting point of a revolution, a milestone of what will be later called ”feminism”. Flappers receded from American life after the Great Depression pulled the plug on all the revelry. With the rise of feminism in the 1960s they enjoyed a bit of a revival, but were remembered largely for their racy fashions and short skirts that were a symbol of sexual liberation.
Feminists had an understandable, get-down-to-business side that was fiercely at odds with the flappers’ devotion to a prolonged adolescence. A flapper cheerfully called herself a “girl,” whereas feminists disdained the word as an insult. Linda Simon, author of “Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper”, claims that women of the Roaring Twenties had a lot in common with today’s millennials. Many young feminists embrace the flapper’s sassy, independent spirit of seeming to play at adulthood, and are perfectly comfortable referring to themselves as “girls”.
“Flapper styles may be relegated to costume museums, but the flapper spirit lives again after a hundred years” (from "Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper")
Clara Bow: Runnin Wild by David Stenn, 1988
Lulu in Hollywood Brooks, L., 1974,New York, Alfred Knopf.
Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper by Linda Simon
Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz
Flappers and Philosophers by Scott Fitzgerald
About flappers and Hollywood:
Flappers. Women's independence.
Silents Are Golden: Flapper Culture in the Films of the Roaring Twenties
Fabulous Flappers of the silver screen.
Dive at work: working girls and strong women in American silent cinema. The case of Clara Bow, the "It Girl"
A portrait of: Louise Brooks
Colleen Moore: The Girl Who Personified the ''Flapper'' of the 1920s
Clara Bow. The original "IT" girl
History of dances in 1920's:
Written by Martina Maddalena
Co-writer and editor: Ksenia Parkhatskaya
World renowned 20s Charleston and solo jazz dancer Ksenia Parkhatskaya presents her special online dance course "Secrets of Charleston 20s". With over 40 lessons and 2 hours of content you will discover how to do the 20s Charleston in the convenience of your home.
What is 20's Charleston?
Read the full article on History of the Charleston dance.
The Charleston dance had possibly the greatest influence on the American culture. Enslaved Africans brought it from Kongo to Charleston, South Carolina, as the Juba dance, which then slowly evolved into what is now known as Charleston. / ../ In African, however, the dance is called Juba or the Djouba. The name Charleston was given to the Juba dance by European Americans
- (Africanisms in American Culture, p.52)
Many scholars attribute the creation and the spread of the Charleston dance to Gullah / Geechee culture and the boys from the Jenkins Orphanage Band.
It is considered that The Charleston dance was "officially" shown in public in the all Black Africa - American Broadway musical "Runnin' Wild". Elida Webb Dawson, African- American dancer, was the choreographer for the show. Her set of movements was accompanied by “The Charleston” tune by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack. The tune had a very characteristic Charleston beat, which James P. Johnson said he first caught from southern musicians and dancers from Charleston city.
The Charleston became the international craze, when African American performer Josephine Baker introduced the Charleston dance in Europe during her Parisian tour “Le revue negre”.
Where to learn how to dance 20's Charleston?
You can find a local swing dance or solo jazz dance school where you can ask for 20s Charleston solo classes. Another way, which can be more convenient in some ways is to learn how to dance with online classes. Ksenia's Secrets of the Charleston 20’s is an online course on how to learn the famous 20s Charleston in 8 chapters, 40 videos and almost 2 hours of high quality online content.
The course is taught by a sensational dancer, who made her name in dance though her Charleston performances, Ksenia Parkhatskaya. Dancing since 6 years of age, Ksenia came to fame through her signature Charleston choreography on “So You Think You Can Dance” in Ukraine (invited to the show as a participant from Russia). She soon rose to be one of the most viewed dancers on the internet with over 200 million views.
A dance artist, choreographer and performer Ksenia has created many short dance films and clips inspired by flapper character and 20s Charleston dance style.
Trained in competitive ballroom dance in Russia and competing on a regular basis for 9 years, Ksenia is more interested in performance and creation. Though in a spirit of solo jazz and Charleston battles and races, she occasionaly participated in swing dance international competitions, placing first.
Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance classes are a chocolate box of dance steps, movement tricks and technique tips. You will for sure enrich your pockets with good basic vocabulary as well as dizzy flash steps that will insure your greatness on the dance floor. You will discover some of my step variations and get inspired by the immense world of creativity that jazz in general brings. And all of it will settle the best way in your body with a seasoning of some useful technique secrets.
The Secrets of 20s Charleston series cover a wide range of levels: from beginners to advanced dancers. Beginners can learn basic steps and techniques, improvers can enrich their vocabulary and learn some flash steps and advanced dancers can get new ideas, steps variations and refine their style.
I picked the best of what I know and love about 20's Charleston and combined it with my dance experience and general dance approach. Above all I value the individual voice in any art form. That is why I am sharing my way: my personal twist on original steps plus steps I created myself as well as ideas I have developed over the years
What is inside Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance course?
Secrets of Charleston 20’s online dance course is build around moves and famous footwork. There are 7 chapters, inside which you will have several dance classes with progressive variations of this specific step.
For example let’s take a look at Chapter V: Basic Step Variations. In the first video I will break down the absolute basics of the charleston step and start with the variation #1. Then you will have 3 more videos with 3 different variations. And then the last video of the chapter will be a demo - me demonstrating how to dance those steps to the music and mixing them.
How to use Secrets of Charleston 20s?
Once you have picked the chapter, please go chronologically - the way I placed the videos for you. I thought it through. I have built my explanations and the material within a chapter in a progressive way. "Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves" is an exception. There you get a collection of independent videos, where I teach you flash moves, flaps, slaps and so on.
Where to start in Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance course?
I recommend to start with Chapter I: Twist Recipe for everyone to get your 20's Charleston technique in place, understand how the body works. 20's Charleston is all about twists. Once you get it in your body, success will be guaranteed.
After you practiced Twist Recipe you can go ahead and jump to any of the chapters between Chapter II & V or just follow the order I prepared for you. This will enrich your vocabulary of 20s Charleston moves. Always go back to review Twist Recipe chapter because it is the fundamental building block of the dance and style. Remember, once in the chapter, follow chronology of the videos.
The last 3 chapters are about so called flash steps. For instance, the "Chapter VI: Black Bottom Cow Tail & Chapter VII: Slides Filling" are technically quite challenging. Make sure to first establish your basics before going into technically challenging movements.
"Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves" is a candy box of spicy, eccentric dance moves. You can randomly pick a move from the collection for your practice and include in your dance as a flash step. The dance cannot consist of just flash moves glued together, so make sure to have your ways around first (check Chapters I to V).
Secrets of Charleston 20's Table of Content
Chapter I: Twist Recipe
In this chapter you'll get to know and experience the fundamental building block of 20s Charleston - twists and the Charleston body. You will discover what is a body state, feel, style and posture in when dancing the 20s specifically. And discover the technique and different patterns of the main component of the style, which is twist. Forget that you were ever walking parallel, every step is a twist in 20s Charleston. In a step-by-step manner we will ensure that your twists are fluid and fast.
For me, 20’s Charleston is about sparkling sharpness in the middle of mindless chaos of dance madness. Twist is the way to walk, live and think in 20s Charleston
- Twists & Charleston Body + demo
- Moving around with Twist + demo
- Butterfly Twist + demo
- Side Skippin’ + demo
- Twists & tips
- Twists on Fire
Chapter II: Fall off the log Tricks
In this chapter you will uncover on one of the great 20s Charleston and solo jazz steps – Fall(ing) off The Log. Falling-off-a-log is as well described as a step similar to Buffalo tap dance step but with a leaning pause added). It is a so- called travel step. The main rhythmic idea of the step is accentuating the backbeat on the kick. In that moment the whole body gravitates to the ground. The art of mimicry and imitation is strongly developed in black dances.
What is it and how to bring it to life? Add simple changes like: twisting the step and playing with the type of kick so that the step can travel through era’s – from ragtime to swing.
- Black Bottom Twist
- Double Kick
- Kick Ball Change
Chapter III: Suzy Q
In this chapter you will be introduced to Susie Q, Suzie Q or Suzy-Q and it's variations. It is a vernacular dance step, with a shuffling and sliding step (as well performed in tap) that was introduced at the Cotton Club in 1936. The origin of the name “Suzie Q” is uncertain. There is a the reference to the name in the 1936 song Doin’ the Suzie-Q by Lil Hardin Armstrong.
- How to?
- Swing the 8th
- Break with Shuffle
- Chapter IV: Cross Behind & Triple
- Crabbin’ & Triple Step
- Swing the Triple
Chapter V: Basic Charleston Step Variations
In this chapter you will learn the fabulous 20s Charleston basic step and eccentric variations created by Ksenia Parkhatskaya. Charleston name refers to a few elements: a song, a city, a style of the dance, a dance itself and a step. Nowadays, when we say Charleston basic or basic step when dancing solo in swing dance community, we refer to Charleston step. Charleston step has it’s eras and it changed with time and place. It started as a step with twists in jazz age, then transformed into a crazy wild kicking move in swing era.
Take the Charleston step, for example. We think it came up from South Carolina with its name intact and was introduced in a Broadway show, Running’ Wild.
Cholly Atkins from “Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins”
- Zig Zag Kick
Chapter VI: Black Bottom Cow Tail
The black bottom was a dance that hit America after The Charleston became famous in 1920's. It's a very feminine style with loads of animalistic movements. Cow tail is an animal inspired move, when the cows were stuck in the mud and had to wave their tail to get rid of flies around.
- Cow Tail
- Walking with Cow Tail
You probably have seen one of crazy Charleston video of Ksenia Parkhatskaya where she twirls her leg as a fan in her famous smoking flapper character. That move is a charmer! You can learn it now here with a step by step instructions from Ksenia herself.
- the importance of isolation of upper and lower body
- where is the engine of cow tail
- how to have an infinite cow tail movement without loosing your balance
- how to create perfect 360 circle of a cow tail
- how the knee placement change the world of the cow tail move
- what is a “cow tail cheating”
Chapter VII: Slides Filling
Arguably, the most technically challenging chapter of the course, where you will unlock the beauty and potential of slides and 20s Charleston moves. Make sure to always warm up before and do the slide movement step by step, not rushing into it in order to be safe. Wear shoes that are not too sticky in order not to damage your knees by having too much friction with the floor. Equally, shoes that are too slippery might make it hard to coordinate. Remember, keep you knee in your vision space and you will be fine!
- Twist’n’ Slide
- High Kick Slide
- Back Slide
Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves
This chapter is a collection of individual flapper inspired, fluid and fast flash step as well as concepts of 20s Charleston style such a Silent Movie and exaggerated movement.
- Raindrops + demo
- Black Bottom slap + demo
- Happy Feet + demo
- J.Baker flavour + demo
- Silent Movie concept + demo
Are you ready to push your 20s Charleston dance to the next level?
In this extensive videos series I will be breaking down techniques and steps from the legendary 20s Charleston dance. Each chapter tackles one 20s Charleston topic, and will be showing different patterns, variations and styling within that topic.
Here's an example from one of the Secrets of Charleston 20s chapter "Cow Tail"
Are you interested? Become a member of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo Online Dance Classes!
You can check out all our account pricing options on this page. You can choose one of the three membership options. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us here.