The period of the 1920s has a complex social and cultural history. From this history, derived the popularity of the upbeat Charleston Dance. Most people will associate this dance with the flappers and the speakeasy, despite its origins, because many young women used it as a way to mock the people who supported the Prohibition. As a result, the Charleston was considered to be a provocative and immoral dance during its time. In this paper, I want to briefly explore the dance’s history, its characteristics, how it reached popularity, how the social implications of the time affected the dance, and ultimately how the Charleston defined women and helped them change the social normative.
The actual origins of the Charleston are long and obscure. First off, the Branle of 1520 is said to be quite similar to the Charleston. It is a French Renaissance dance that was generally performed outside. It is described to have a “winging step and anterior kick and swing, the lifting of the leg, the twisting of the feet and the side fling of the foot” (Watson). These movements are close to the characteristics of the Charleston. On the other hand, for an African American influential approach, many dance historians hold the Ash-Ante peoples of Africa as the originators. The walking movements, combined with the feet pointing in and out, are characteristics used in the Charleston (Asheante). Yet, it is further said that the series of steps have originated from the African Americans living on a small island off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, while others say its from the Cape Verde Islands in western Africa. As a result, leading to the obscurity of the dances origins. (Watson)
The characteristic Charleston beat incorporates the clave rhythm that is synonymous with the habanera and the Spanish tinge, and can be danced solo, with a partner, or in a group (Watson). It contains a simple, flexible base step that makes it easy to concentrate on styling, improvisation, and musicality. In whichever style, either solo or partner, the basic movement resembles the natural movement of walking, although it is performed in place. Meanwhile, the arms swing forward and backward, with the right arm coming forward as the left leg steps forward and then moving back as the opposite arm/leg begins its forward movement. The toes are not pointed, but the feet form a right angle with the lead at the ankle, and the arms are frequently bent at the elbow and the hands form a right angle for the wrist. Furthermore, the Charleston incorporates a bounce in its steps, which goes along with the beat in the music (Charleston Dance). The characteristics of the feet, arm, wrist, and ankle angles are synonymous with African dances, and thus why the Charleston is thought to have originated from them. (Watson)
In partner Charleston, couples stand facing each other in the traditional European closed position. The leader’s, normally the male, left hand is place on the follower’s, normally the female, back between their shoulder blades. The follower’s left hand then rests on the leader’s shoulder or biceps. The leader’s left hand and the follower’s right hand are clasped palm-to-palm, and held at shoulder height or higher. For the basic step, the leader touches his left foot behind them, without shifting weight while the follower mirrors the motion by touching their right foot in front, without shifting weight. Next, both partners bring their feet back to a standing position and shit their weight onto the foot they have just moved, the left for the leader and the right for the follower. Then, the leader touches their right foot in front of themselves, while the follower touches their left foot back. Finally, both feet are brought back to the standing position. (Charleston dance)
Lastly, in group Charleston, the dance is the most improvised. Often, it would be arranged in a loose circle on the dance floor in two long lines of facing dancers. Sometimes, a person will call...
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