Charleston / Rag-Time / Swing

The music has 4 or 2 beats to the bar and about 60 bars per minute. Half a bar is one slow (S) or occasionally two quicks (QQ) when importing Quickstep figures. Count bars as 1, 2 or and 1 and 2 when adding a twisting action to steps.

Bizarrely, these dances are white rip-offs of black slave spoofs of the walking style of rich white posers (as with the Cake-Walk). It is quite possible to dance Charleston without a partner but ballroom sequences expect one. It may also be easier to lean on a partner - close hold is less close than normal ballroom because of this and the flick/points. However, side-by-side positions will be about as common as facing partner is. When not holding a partner, there are some silly hand motions to do (see period films such as Thoroughly Modern Millie for examples).

For pure Charleston, keep the steps small and light - mostly on the balls of the feet. This is so that you can twist the feet while stepping forwards or backwards. Point toes in at the start of a step and out at the end. The lower part of the moving leg swings out heel/ankle first but twists in mid-air to land with the heel inwards. It may be difficult to pick up - I couldn't do it until I remembered how my mother runs. Then it all suddenly made sense. Naturally she regards this as an insult! In ballroom sequences, the twisting action is ignored in favour of plain walks. The dances tend to be Swing or Blues versions of the Quickstep (with chassés and locks etc). However, the syncopated rhythm to the step-point figures remains.

Charleston Basics

These are step and point figures, forwards or backwards on either foot (facing or side-by-side). The point may be a low flick instead (high kicks are too dangerous). Since the walks are slow, any initial twist occurs on the and count preceding the step itself. When side-by-side both go forwards or backwards. When facing and in relatively close hold, the lady will go backwards while the man goes forwards and vice versa.

Forwards Charleston (SRP, NH) Backwards Charleston (SRP, NH)
Count and 1 and 2 and 1 and 2
Man twist LF twist RF pt twist RB twist LB pt
Lady twist RF twist LF pt twist LB twist RB pt

Walks and Flicks

Another common combination is three walks and a low flick or point forwards or backwards on either foot. As before, this may be with or without twisting action and side-by-side or facing partner.

Forwards Walks and Flick (SRP, NH) Backwards Walks and Flick (SRP, NH)
Count 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2
Man LF RF LF RF fl RB LB RB LB fl
Lady RF LF RF LF fl LB RB LB RB fl

Solo Turns

Solo turns in Charleston require 8 very small forwards twisting steps turning away from partner and all the way round. More steps are needed to complete a turn than for other dances because of all the silly footwork. Don't forget the obligatory waggly hand motions and fixed grin!

Solo Turns (FP-SRP-BP-SLP-FP, NH)
Count 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2
Man LF-1 RF-1 LF-1 RF-1 LF-1 RF-1 LF-1 RF-1
Lady RF+1 LF+1 RF+1 LF+1 RF+1 LF+1 RF+1 LF+1

Toe-Heel Swivels

This is a way of progressing very slowly sideways. Instead of twisting on the balls of both feet, use the heel of one and the ball of the other to swivel and travel. If facing, the couple will be doing the opposite to each other as usual. Note that the weight is clearly split between both feet on this figure. This is fairly typical of Charleston. It switches direction of travel and foot usage all the time - hence the need for light steps.

Toe-Heel Swivel to the Right Toe-Heel Swivel to the Left
Count 1 2 1 2
Solo L heel, R ball R heel, L ball R heel, L ball L heel, R ball

Hand-Knee Crosses

This figure is completely on the spot and has no footwork as such. Bend your knees and lean over to place your hands on them. Start with your knees slightly apart (ie pointing outwards from closed feet). Bring them together and swap your hands over to the opposite knees as they meet. Then when you separate your knees again, your hands/arms will be crossed over. Bring your knees back together, swapping your hands back again and then reopen your knees with the correct hand on each.


© Susan Foord (sf@pedag.org) 2010-07-18
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