How to Charleston – Let’s Dance!

Have you always wanted to learn how to Charleston? You’ve come to the right place!

First, a bit of history and context about Charleston. In case you were wondering, yes, the dance was named after the city of Charleston in South Carolina. The dance itself has deep African-American roots, coming from dances like the Juba, which involve stomping, slapping, and patting the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks. The dance hit mainstream popular culture when the tune called “The Charleston” by composer/pianist James P. Johnson was released in 1923. The song originated in the Broadway show Runnin’ Wild and it became one of the most popular hits of the decade, while the dance remains one of the biggest dance crazes of all time. The peak years for dancing the Charleston in mainstream culture were mid-1926 to 1927.

The dance is an important part of Black American History. It’s thanks to Black dancers that we dance the Charleston today. Learning about the history of Charleston (and Lindy Hop, which developed out of Charleston), as well as learning about today’s Black experience in swing dancing are things we should all do as part of our personal development. Without this cultural reference, we’re missing a huge part of the experience! Please check out our History & Resources page, which is a ‘work in progress’ but can be used as a jumping-off point as you learn how to Charleston. 

The classic Charleston song is helpful in understanding the dance because the music emphasizes the “odd” accents of the dance. The song goes: “Charl-ston, charl-ston da da dada Charl-ston” with an emphasis on 1, 3, 5, and 7. It’s those accents on the odd beats that characterize the unique rhythm and help you understand how to Charleston. 

How to Dance Charleston 

We don’t dance Charleston just because of its historical roots; it’s also exceptionally practical! Whether you’re attending a Great Gatsby party or an Art Deco event, or starting to explore the world of swing dancing, Charleston is a super fun and historical dance that anyone can learn.

Here at iLindy.com, we have the world’s biggest resource for online Lindy Hop dance lessons—and that includes Charleston videos! In fact, we have over 1000+ videos, so you can really dive in and immerse yourself in learning how to Charleston. 

Free Tutorial! For the full library of content, sign up here.

Charleston can be danced both solo and partnered, supports both pattern recognition and Lead & Follow technique, makes dancing to higher tempos easier, and adds a great rhythmical texture to your dancing. 

This also gives you an interesting look at the root of various solo jazz steps. The steps that start on “1” usually have earlier Charleston roots, while the steps that start on “8” relate to the more swinging music that came later. 

How to Charleston: Basic Charleston

First, here are the basic partnered Charleston figures every Lindy Hoppers needs to know. Most of the complex partnered Charleston figures stem from these core moves.

How to Charleston: Partner Charleston Transitions

It’s all in the transitions! Spending time to thoroughly know the entrances and exits to each Charleston move can make all the difference when you get to the social dance floor. 

Also very useful and important to know is how to execute, lead, follow, and comfortably move through the Charleston Tuck Turn, which lays down foundations like building blocks for further Charleston exploration. 

Getting back to Tandem Charleston, these are generally a must in every Lindy Hoppers repertoire. If you can’t lead and follow these, it’s hard to call yourself a Lindy Hopper. 

Once you have all these building blocks of Charleston under your belt, you can get into really fun and interesting Charleston transitions. Here are a few of our favorites. 

Do you have a favorite Charleston move? A Charleston request for a future video? Tell us about it in the comments!

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