Learn about Life in the 1920s

How to Dance the Charleston - and Destruction of the Pickwick Club 1925

THE DANCE THAT DEMOLISHED a building," as some writers name the "Charleston," has received the approval of the Dancing Teachers' Convention, in session recently at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York. Against it was quoted the accusation that its stamping rhythm had caused the disastrous collapse of the Pickwick Club in Boston, whereby forty-four people were killed and many injured.

Following that catastrophe, the Boston building department received a request from the Mayor's office to issue an edict barring the "Charleston" from public dance-halls. But the extraordinary popularity of the new favorite among dances was not abated, we are told, by its presumed guilt of the Pickwick Club slaughter. "Practically all dance teachers in New York and other cities of the East," we read, "are forced to teach the Charleston." One teacher is quoted as saying that "while she did not greatly relish the Charleston, she thought a modified form of the dance, minus superfluous jazzing, would add life to an occasion," and that the Charleston "was distasteful to her only as it is danced by very young and overexultant flappers." In an article syndicated by the International Feature Service we read:

From coast to coast the "Charleston" has caught the country swaying to its curious rhythm. No dance, since jazz first came into vogue with the "bunny-hug" and the "turkey-trot," has created such a furore.

Enthusiasts ecstatically stamp to its syncopated measures, while others, equally in earnest, denounce it. But the controversy that is carried on everywhere concerning this latest mania has failed to stem its tide of popularity. America is "Charleston" mad.

WRECKED PICKWICK CLUB

After recalling the facts of the Boston tragedy, the article continues:

There were many similar cases cited to substantiate this supposition. The description in the Bible of the taking of Jericho tells how, when the seven priests, preceded by a force of armed men, compassed the city seven times "the wall fell down flat." Even to-day when soldiers march across a bridge they are required to break step, for engineers assert that the strongest bridge built can not withstand the strain of rhythmic vibration. A violin chord, if tuned to exactly the right pitch, will shatter a vase. It is regarded by some, therefore, as not only a possibility but a fact that the "Charleston" was responsible for the Boston tragedy.

But for each one who believes the "Charleston" to be a dance of death, there are thousands who blithely trip its measures and proclaim it the most harmless, tho fascinating, stunt that has yet been introduced.

Emil Coleman, famous orchestra leader, who has played at the Montmartre, Club Lido, and other fashionable night haunts of New York City, to admiring throngs of smart patrons, declares that the "Charleston" is the most characteristically American of any of the modern dances. According to Mr. Coleman, the peculiar accent in time is the musical expression of the native temperament.

The "Charleston" is said to have originated on a little island off the coast of South Carolina. From there it found its way to the city of Charleston, where it was first taken up by the negroes. It became so popular among them that they inaugurated it in the much-frequented night clubs of Harlem, New York City.

Bee Jackson, well-known dancer, is said to be the first white girl to feature the "Charleston." She saw it danced in "Runnin' Wild," the colored musical show that became the rage of Broadway, and immediately decided to learn it. She took lessons from Lyda Webb, dancer at the Club Alabam, and soon became an expert. She first put on the dance on Broadway in February, 1924, when she appeared in "The Silver Slipper." Later she introduced it at the Club Richmond and the El Fey Club.

According to Miss Jackson, the "Charleston" is a very smooth dance when properly performed. People who are inexperienced, she says, do a sort of clog, which is not, according to her, the correct way to dance the "Charleston." Miss Jackson uses the original "Charleston" music from "Runnin' Wild" and "Georgia Brown" for her numbers.

The orchestration for the new "hoofing" mania is distinctive. According to Emil Coleman, the time and rhythm are the same as in the fox-trot, but the accent, being oddly placed "between beats," makes the curious syncopation that has so violently taken the country by storm. In the fox-trot the accent comes on the first and third beats; whereas in the "Charleston" it occurs on the first beat and an eighth before the third beat. It is that little eighth "off-beat" that fascinates the lovers of jazz so that they just can't resist this latest terpsichorean craze.

Another distinctive feature of the dance is that it is "flatfooted."

For the benefit of those optimistic persons who feel themselves capable of learning to dance by correspondence course, the following information is given:

Oscar Duryea, American authority on modern dances, describes how to do the Charleston.

The position at the start is as follows: Man's left foot behind the right, left toe at the heel of the right, both toes turned out—his partner's right foot in front of her left, her right heel at the toe of her left foot, both toes turned out. The man raises the left foot and at the same time raises on the toe of the right, turn both toes in, twisting on the ball of the right foot. With the feet in this position, both toes are twisted out, with the man's left heel in front of his right toe—his partner's right heel in front at her left toe.

The man raises his left foot, at the same time rising on the ball of the right foot, and twists both toes in, then puts his left foot behind the right one, and on the balls of both feet twists both toes out—his left toe behind at the right heel. His partner raises her right foot, at the same time rising on the ball of her left foot and twists both toes in, then puts her right foot in front and on the balls of both feet turns both toes out—her right toe in front at her left heel. A toddle movement is taken through-out all the "Charleston" steps, on the foot on which the weight happens to be.

 

DANCE RESOURCES

This DVD contains over 3 hours of dance instruction on the different forms of the Charleston. Lindy Hop Volume 2 DVD - Teach Yourself "The Charleston" 1920s Style, plus Modern Style