As you may have seen, we’ve got a new class running this block called Vintage Solo Dance instead of our usual tap dance and Charleston blocks. The official description, “a solid introduction to iconic solo dances of the 1930s – how they differ, how they overlap, and how to combine them and make something awesome” might be very exciting but it doesn’t actually tell you very much – so we thought we’d give you a bit more of a rundown on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it!
What is the Charleston?
Briefly, the Charleston is a specific dance style that became ridiculously popular during America’s Jazz Age in the 1920s, though there are accounts of earlier versions. The roots of the dance are firmly planted in the rhythms and movements of African dances mixed with European and ballroom dance influences, and the partner and solo Charleston became the iconic dances of the 1920s.
What is tap dance?
Well you probably already know at least a little – but here’s the rundown: tap dance was originally a kind of mash-up melting pot of African tribal dances, clogging and Irish jigs (probably). It initially became popular in minstrel shows and moved to vaudeville in the 1920s.
What happened next?
In the simplest terms, the Lindy Hop did! By the 1930s fashions, fortunes and music had changed quite a lot, and with the cultural shift from hot jazz to swing the original Charleston lost popularity. Instead of disappearing though, it was adapted and become an integral part of the new dance craze: Lindy Hop. The Charleston of the 1930s was more relaxed, with straighter swinging legs, and the partner version was danced side by side rather than in more a traditional ballroom hold.
Tap dance was still going strong with dancers like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers wowing movie theatre audiences, so Lindy Hop grabbed some of that too and incorporated tap rhythms, steps and shapes into the dance vocabulary.
So basically tap and Charleston are both part of the Lindy Hop DNA. What about solo dancing? Did it just stop in 1929?
Nope! To get to the point of all this, solo dances have existed probably forever, and will carry on probably as long as there are humans to do them! So if we go back, way back before the Charleston, there were a bunch of dances that people just called “jazz dance” or “jazz steps”. The Charleston was one of the types of jazz dance that people were doing – it just happened to be a very popular, famous and longstanding one – but even at the same time as the Charleston there were heaps of others being created, danced and shared. Tap dance and jazz dance were both growing, changing and influencing each other through the early 20th century, swapping steps back and forth (usually with embellishments and changes) but often sharing dance vocabulary. The dances began to branch away from each other more and more mid century as they’ve continued to grow, change and create new steps – and whole new dance styles, like hip hop. Since the term “jazz dance” has become more closely associated with jazz ballet or modern jazz, swing dance and jazz communities have given our style of solo dance various names you may have heard mentioned, including Vernacular Jazz and Authentic Jazz. For a really good rundown on Authentic Jazz Dance, read this!
This brings us to what we’re doing this block!
Since tap and jazz dance are all part of the same family and we’ve been keeping them so fiercely separated, we feel like it’s time for a bit of a reunion. In our vintage solo dance block we’re learning one of the most famous tap dances of the silver screen, “Moses Supposes” from Singin’ in the Rain as a jazz dance, then adding tap percussion to it in the second half of the block. This is still a bit of an experiment, but we’re really excited about exploring how movement creates sound and sound creates movement, and how much the two styles have in common. It’ll be a challenge, but it will be a really fun challenge and we hope you’ll join us!
All that’s great, but are Moses’ toeses roses as Moses supposes his toeses to be?
We hate to say it, but in this case Moses supposes erroneously #spoileralert