1912 To 1940s dances: The swing, charleston, cake walk, the blues, the break away AND Jitterbug

The Blues

The Blues is an African American dance done to Blues music, which can be very up close and personal! When you’re feeling a little tired and lacking energy, the Blues is ideal. It can be slow, smooth and highly rhythmical and improvisational. You don’t even need to smile.
Rhythm Tap


The Cake Walk

The Cake Walk is a traditional African American form of music and dance which originated among slaves in South America mocking their white slave-owners’ dancing. Typically, couples would link elbows, lined up in a circle, dancing forward alternating a series of short hopping steps with a series of very high kicking steps. Cake, or slices of cake, were offered as prizes for the best dancers, giving the dance its name. The phrase ‘a piece of cake’ also comes from this practice.

Swing dancing is a dance style, or a group of dances, originating from Harlem, New York with Afro-American Roots. The feeling of the dance is “swinging”, as it developed to the swing style of jazz music from the 1920s to the 1940s or 50s. The most known swing dance is the lindy hop that is danced today around the whole world. Developing from dances called breakaway and Charleston, swing dancing has not only that “swinging” feeling but lots of space for improvisation between partners. Swing dancing is danced socially, not just in competitions, which makes it interactive, fun and a great time as you get to meet and dance with lots of different people and have fun outside lessons too.

From 1919 to 1927, Breakaway was a popular swing dance developed from the Texas Tommy and Charleston in Harlem’s African American communities. The Breakaway was danced to jazz, and while it often began in closed position, the leader would occasionally swing the follower out into an open position, hence “Breaking away”. When in open position the dancers would improvise with fancy moves. Some variations included both dancers completely breaking away from each other to dance ‘alone’.

The charlestons
At first, the step started off with a simple twisting of the feet, to rhythm in a lazy sort of way.  It’s became a fast kicking step, kicking the feet, both forward and backward and later done with a tap.” The Charleston and similar dances such as the Black Bottom which involved “Kicking up your heels” were very popular in the later part of the 1920s. They became less popular after 1930, possibly because after seven years of being fashionable people simply became less interested.

The jitterbug

The jitterbug is a kind of dance popularized in the United States in the early twentieth century and is associated with various types of swing dances such as the Lindy Hop.  A young, white middle-class man from suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania learned to dance jitterbug in 1939 by going to the “Hill City” section of that city to watch black dancers. They danced smoothly, without hopping and bouncing around the dance floor.
The jitterbug basic is counted in six counts of music, but there are (in the basic step) only four steps. On counts one and three, you take small steps to the side, and on counts five and six, you do a rock step to the back. Counts two and four are the lengthening of steps on counts one and three. Essentially, the steps you end up with are: slow, slow, quick, quick. Of course, with jitterbug music, even the ‘slow’ steps are not all that slow.

The hardest thing to learn is the pelvic motion.  You have to sway, forwards and backwards, with a controlled hip movement, while your shoulders stay level and your feet glide along the floor. Your right hand is held low on the girl’s back, and your left hand down at your side, enclosing her hand.  Blues musician Muddy Waters did a jitterbug during his performance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, prompting massive cheers from the audience. His performance was recorded, and released on the LP At Newport 1960.

African American Dance pics 1900

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16 thoughts on “1912 To 1940s dances: The swing, charleston, cake walk, the blues, the break away AND Jitterbug

  1. well well well,I often thought that elvis acted like a black man on stage but could’nt quite put my finger on it. Still love elvis good that he brought out music and dance to the public.


  2. I wish I was born in that era,my mommy and daddy would know because they use to travel back and forth to america from the caribbean.


  3. So that’s where elvis presley got his moonwalk pose from? and people thought that michal jackson copied it from elvis but elvis got it from the older generation of african americans,interesting piece of history.


  4. Let the spirit move,let the spirit move all brothers and sisters let the spirit move. Sorry got carried away thinking about a song we use to sing in church when I saw the let the spirit move picture.


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