The Charleston Dance History

The Charleston is a dance that became popular in the 1920s, during the era of jazz music, speakeasies and Flappers. Danced to ragtime jazz music in a quick-paced 4/4 time rhythm, the Charleston dance quickly became a craze. It was a physical representation of the uninhibited enthusiasm many of the young people of that generation wanted to express.


Although the exact origin of the Charleston is not completely known, it is believed to have originated in a black community living on an island, just outside of the city of Charleston, S.C.


Even though the Charleston was known to exist before the 1920s, it wasn’t until the dance appeared in the Broadway show “Runnin’ Wild” in 1923 that it became truly popular. The dance was featured during the performance of the song “The Charleston” by composer James P. Johnson, and soon the musical and the dance became a big hit.


The Charleston Dance was particularly popular with Flappers, rebellious young women of the 1920s known for wearing short dresses, bobbing their hair and listening to jazz music—all things considered scandalous at the time. The Charleston eventually became one of the dances most associated with the Flappers, who would often dance the night away in dance halls and speakeasies.

The Charleston Dance was also a precursor to a dance developed in the 1930s called the Lindy Hop. Variations of both dances are still popular in the world of dancing today.

The Dance Steps

The Charleston can be danced solo, as a couple, or in groups. While there are many variations on the dance, the basic steps involves kicking the legs and swinging the arms. The Charleston is usually done with large, loose motions in four basic steps as follows: Take a step back with the right foot; kick back with the left leg; step forward with the left foot going back to your original position; kick forward with the right leg and repeat.

The arms also play a large role in the Charleston Dance and should move in the opposite direction to the leg in motion. In other words, if the right leg is kicked forward, the left arm should swing back from the elbow; if the left leg kicks back, the right arm should swing forward.

Fun Fact

The Charleston was banned from many dance halls during the 1920s because it was thought by some to be too scandalous and exuberant.