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  • Writer's pictureThe Dance Mistress

1920s dance

I was asked to develop a program on 1920s dance, for a member's live stream, at the Northeast GA History Center. I decided to talk about the tap dance origin of the Shim Sham, the Charleston and it's contemporary the Blackbottom. Below is a brief history of each dance. To view the full program, click here

The Shim Sham originated as a dance called the Goofus. It was choreographed by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant as a finale number. The Swing dance community adopted the dance and it was popular until the decline of Swing in the late 1950s. Frankie Manning, renowned dancer and choreographer, brought the dance back to a new generation of dancers in the 1990s. Today, you can dance the Frankie Manning version at Swing dances around the world. Thanks Frankie!

The Charleston needs no introduction as it's still danced to this day. The Blackbottom was just as popular, if not more popular, but didn't stand the test of time. I had heard of the dance but had never found it in dance history book. Both the Charleston and Black Bottom were dances derived from slave dances in the South. The earliest record of both dances were from the nineteen teens. Both were introduced to widespread audiences through the theater in New York. The steps of the Charleston focus on steps forward and back while the Blackbotton's were side to side. The steps of both dances were intermingled and different depending on where you were dancing. Dancing on 5th Ave. was more gentile and reserved. In bawdier parts of town, the movements were much freer and wild. Both dances were banned due to the suggestive movements but time marches on. Can you imagine how the censors of the 1920's would have reacted to twerking?

This was such a fun project. I was joined by my friend, Marie Walker, who talked about my antique clothing and accessories collection. Note to self, do not wear green if you're filming on a green screen! I didn't know so my new dress ended up looking more olive than emerald green. Oh well, I was more prepared for the next one.

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