Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Charleston Leg Movement In African & African American Dances

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Updates: 2/9/2012, 9/30/2014]

Minstrel Cakewalk Cake Walk Dancing [1903]

Uploaded by nnorb on Nov 12, 2007

This is a cakewalk from the turn of the century.

This post presents selected videos of the signature leg movement of the Charleston dance as found in a film clip of a pre-1920s African American dance [a form of the Cakewalk], as performed in two traditional African dances, and as performed in several 20th and 21st century African American originated dances.

These videos are posted for their historical, folkloric, aesthetic, and/or entertainment value.

This is not meant to be comprehensive presentation of videos or comments on this subject.

My thanks to those dancers, musicians, producers, and uploaders of these featured film clips, and videos.


Charleston Dance Becomes Popular (1923):

The Charleston dance became popular after appearing along with the song, "The Charleston," by James P. Johnson in the Broadway musical Runnin' Wild in 1923.

Although the origins of the dance are obscure, the dance has been traced back to [African Americans] who lived on an island off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina (which is why the dance is called "Charleston"). The Charleston dance had been performed in black communities since 1903, but did not become internationally popular until the musical debuted in 1923.

The music for the Charleston is ragtime jazz, in quick 4/4 time with syncopated rhythms.

The dance uses both swaying arms and the fast movement of the feet. To begin the dance, one first moves the right foot back one step and then kicks backwards with the left foot while the right arm moves forward. Then both feet and arms are replaced to the start position and the right foot kicks forwards while the right arm moves backwards. This is done with a little hop in between steps.

The Charleston dance became extremely popular in the 1920s, especially with Flappers. The dance could be done by oneself, with a partner, or in a group.

* Note: I changed the referent used in the article because I don't like the term "the blacks".


From href="
"The Charleston was one of the dances from which Lindy Hop and Jazz Roots developed in the 1930s. A slightly different form of Charleston became popular in the 1930s and '40s, and is associated with Lindy Hop. In this later Charleston form, the hot jazz timing of the 1920s Charleston was adapted to suit the swing jazz music of the '30s and '40s. This style of Charleston has many common names, though the most common are Lindy Charleston, Savoy Charleston, '30s or '40s Charleston and Swing(ing) Charleston. In both '20s Charleston and Swinging Charleston, the basic step takes eight counts and is danced either alone or with a partner.

Frankie Manning and other Savoy dancers saw themselves as doing Charleston steps within the Lindy rather than to be dancing Charleston."


Video #1:
Presented at the top of this post.

Video #2: Kabakoudou et Grand Dévis : kulibèmbelen [Guinea, West Africa]

Uploaded by asoumah on Apr 30, 2009

Video #3: Traditional Congolese Dance (The Congo, Central Africa)

Uploaded by eghow on Apr 5, 2010

This was a demonstration of traditional Congo dancing, costumes and drumming during a visit to Kamina, Congo. The Catholic church in this (very large) village has this program, which is an effort to remember older Congo traditions.


Editor: Both of the videos of traditional African dancing are from the regions from which most enslaved African Americans were taken.

I'm including Video #3 although it could be argued that that dance looks more like the moves that were performed for the 1960s Twist than the 1920s or 1940s Charleston.

Video #4: Crank Dat Lion King

Uploaded by misskimari on Oct 21, 2007

Video #5: Chicago Footwork

Uploaded by ghettotekz on Apr 24, 2010

no real battle, just some amazin footworkin. This was with MOB, TS, Wolf Pac, Litebulb, Deryon, Stepz, Manny, just a whole bunch of dope cats. Watch it fools!

Video #6: Jig & Show Out Dance

Uploaded by zahria1998 on Mar 18, 2011

We was tryin to win jig & Show Out Contest.

UPDATE: 2/9/2012

Uploaded by superstarvic on Oct 29, 2009

Also, Sally Adebayo hipped me to this video of the latest dance craze from Ghana. Thanks, Sally!

U Media Films - Azonto - Fuse ODG Feat. Tiffany (OFFICIAL)

Uploaded by TonishaTagoe on Oct 27, 2011

Azonto - Fuse ODG Feat. Tiffany **ProDuced by KILLBEATZ!**


I'm definitely am not lovin (or even likin) those white face masks. What do you think about them?

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.


  1. Another great post Azizi.Everything old is new again.The latest craze with Charleston undertones has come out of Accra Ghana. You can just search Azonto, but here is a link to one...

  2. Thanks, Sally.

    I appreciate you sharing that link. I wasn't aware of that danc or that group. I can't say that I'm a fan of the white face masks that they were, but yes, that dance definitely includes the Charleston-like moves.

  3. I appreciate your objections and I see your point .Perhaps it was naive of me to miss a racial element to the masks.Probably because I had seen this costuming before, I saw it as making the dancers anonymous and showcasing the movements of the dance, rather than the identity of the dancers.
    Maybe you will have more appreciation for this this masked musician from Nigeria whose name means "everyone/no one in particular".

    1. This is actually the link that includes comments explaining what is going on in the video...

  4. Sally, thanks for that link! I love seeing how the drums are used by musicians and singers. I also love seeing the traditional Yoruba attire that the men (in particular in this video) are wearing.

    I added that video to a post on Traditional Musical Instruments Worldwide that I published on my Jambalayah website. The link is for that page is It is featured on that page under "dundun" which is the name of the drum that is played with a hooked stick and also has bells attached. The pear shaped drums also played in the video are called "bata".

    And I also featured that video on its own page at Both of those posts have two viewer comments that explain what is going on in the video.

    Btw, as an explantion of Sally's comment to me, here's the comment I wrote to her on my facebook page (where I use the name cocojams jambalayah) about my dislike of the white mask that are worn by the dancers in the Azonto video:

    Yeah but given that racism still is strong all over the world, if people wear white mask, then can black masks with saggin pants and pullover top, or yellow mask with kimonos and red masks with feathers be far behind? Ugh! No double and triple UGH!!!

  5. In Ibadan,where that video was recorded,a greater number of people wear traditional clothes than in many parts of Lagos, a more cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse city. Ibadan is a fabulous parade of color in batik and tie dye prints!
    Lagbaja is known for using a mix of traditional and western instruments,and there is a nice discussion of the drums and drumming ensembles on his website
    Thanks for the links.I'll be very happy to peruse them more thoroughly as soon as I find some time. I had bata drummers at my wedding.If you ever take a trip to West Africa hit me up for a good guide in either Nigeria or Ghana.

  6. If I ever visit either of those nations, I'll contact you way before that time for more information on guides.

    Also, Sally and others reading this comment, check out this pancocojams post which was inspired by the clothing in the Lagbaja video:

    Dashikis - an Adaptation of the Yoruba Dansiki