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Gangnam Style? I’d Rather Charleston!

March 6, 2013

The history of popular culture is littered with dance crazes.  Most shimmer briefly in the spotlight of public attention then vanish, forgotten, never to be danced again, replaced by a new set of moves.

Gangnam Style by Psy

But occasionally a dance takes on a life beyond its fifteen-minutes of fame and becomes a form of cultural shorthand for a particular era.  The dance that typifies this more than any other is the Charleston which is now seen as the embodiment of the spirit of the 1920s.

Charleston dancers in the 1920s

The precise origins of the dance are unclear, but it was brought to public attention when the song “Charleston” was included in the 1923 Broadway show, “Runnin’ Wild”.  The Charleston’s infectious rhythm, wild abandon and the fact that it could be danced without a partner made it the dance of choice for  young people around the globe.

Dancing the Charleston

It later developed into part of the Lindy Hop and nowadays the dance is a popular feature of the BBC television show “Strictly Come Dancing” which introduced the Charleston in 2009 despite it not being an “official” ballroom dance (as defined by The British Dance Council).

Denise van Outen and James Jordan dance the Charleston on Strictly Come Dancing 2012

Ola Jordan and Chris Hollins' Charleston 2009

I’m excited that I’ve been able to add a Charleston song to my repertoire.  “I’d Rather Charleston” was written by George Gershwin and Desmond Carter for the 1926 show “Lady Be Good” although I first came across it when Kenneth Branagh used it in his 2000 film version of William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost”.

"Love's Labour's Lost" poster from Kenneth Branagh's 2000 film

Having it in my repertoire of songs from the 1920s, 30s and 40s is something of a coup.  I don’t know of anyone else in the UK currently singing “I’d Rather Charleston” as part of a self-contained act and I’m confident that it adds further authenticity to my performances.  It means that those people who have already booked me for their “Great Gatsby” themed weddings and parties this year will certainly be getting some bone-fide 1920s entertainment.

Ninety-years on, the Charleston doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of flagging and I for one am delighted about that.  You can keep your latest dance crazes, I would definitely rather Charleston!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2013 11:05 pm

    Love the post! Old dance crazes were the best

  2. March 18, 2013 8:06 am

    Fabulous Simon. Hope to hear you again soon… and your Charleston!

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