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Popular 1920s Dances

Updated on April 14, 2013

The Roaring Twenties were the start of the modern age. Dance was exuberant and energetic. 1920s style. freed women from tight corsets and the new fashions of short hair and short skirts. In the decade between Great War and the Great Depression, the world was alive and vibrant.

1920s dances: the Baltimore Buzz

The "Buzz" was really part of 1920s dancing rather than a dance itself, but there was also a song by called the Baltimore Buzz by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake:

There have been a thousand raggy-draggy dances

That are danced in every hall

And there have been a thousand raggy-draggy prances

That are pranced at every ball

But the bestest one that was

Is called the Baltimore Buzz

[Refrain:]

First you take your babe and gently hold her

Then you lay her head upon her shoulder

Next you walk just like your legs are breaking

Do a fango like a tango

Then you star the shimmie to shaking

Then you do a raggy, draggo motion

Just like any ship up on the ocean

Slide, and then you hesitate

Glide, oh honey ain't it great!

You just go simply in a trance

With that Baltimore buzzing dance

Baltimore Buzz Music

Baltimore Buzz Music
Baltimore Buzz Music

The Baltimore Buzz was popularised in 1921 by Florence Mills who danced and sang in a popular Revue. It is a ragtime dance, danced on one foot, sliding the other foot up to it, then swapping feet to repeat.

(There is a different line-dance known as the Baltimore Strut (or New Jersey Strut) which starts with two steps to the right, two to the left; one forwards with the right foot, then one with the left. The forward steps are then repeated with knees raised.)

1920s dances: the Black Bottom

The Black Bottom is a close relative of the better known 1920s Charleston. It was born in the New Orleans jazz tradition at the start of the 20th Century, but is much older in basic form as a folk dance. The Black Bottom was brought to New York in the middle of the 1920s and over the course of a couple of years became immensely popular.

This video shows how the 1920s Black Bottom dance developed during the decade.

America in the 1920s (Decades of American History)
America in the 1920s (Decades of American History)

The 1920s are a classic American decade with speakeasys and Prohibition, flappers and gansters. Learn more about this unique decade of contradictions in this book.

 

1920s dances: the Cake Walk

The Cake Walk was a well established dance by the 1920s with it's roots in the Black music of the Deep South. It's set in ragtime and even well kown composers like Debussey wrote cake walks. Franky though, in my personal opinion, the dance itself looks pretty ridiculous! Scott Joplin, the undisputed king of ragtime music, mentionted it in lyrics:-

"Let me see you do the rag-time dance,Turn left and do the cakewalk prance,Turn the other way and do the slow drag -Now take you lady to the World's FairAnd do the rag-time dance."

1920s dances: the Charleston

Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston (1926)

Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston (1926)
Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston (1926)

The Charleston is the sound of the Roaring Twenties with a driving jazz beat based on a 3-2 clave:-

In Cuban popular music a chord progression can begin on either side of clave. When the progression begins on the three-side, the song or song section is said to be in 3-2 clave. When the chord progression begins on the two-side, it is in 2-3 clave. In North America, salsa and Latin jazz charts commonly represent clave in two measures of cut-time (2/2), this most likely being the influence of jazz conventions[18]. When clave is written in two measures changing from one clave sequence to the other is a matter of reversing the order of the measures. - Source: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

Although the basic steps are simple, it's usual to add flourishes and embellishments. One of the most common involves hands on knees as shown in the photograph of Josephine Baker above. In fact the term "Flapper", so strongly associated with 1920s women, is a reference to the Charlestone and the way that women would "flap" their arms and legs like a bird. It helped both Joan Crawford and Ginger Rogers to rise to fame as renowned and popular dancers. The Charleston can be danced solo or with a partner.

The modern Charleston has developed from it's 1920s dance roots and is an established part of Lindy Hop dancing. The modern version often incorporates steps and moves from other 1920s dances such as the Black Bottom or the Cake Walk. The original 1920s Charleston was also a frenetically fast dance with up to 350 beats per minute. Modern dancing tends to have a somewhat slower pace.

 

1920s dances: the Foxtrot

The Foxtrot can be traced back to 1914 and was a popular fast jazz dance (slow, slow, quick, quick) and is a derivation of the older Two-step. The 1920s version is closer to the modern Quickstep than to the modern Foxtro - the dance style has split with the Foxtrot becoming slower while the Quickstep retains the original pace.

1920s Style

1920s dances: the Tango

The Tango Canyengue, the great dance of Latin America flourished until the Great Crash of 1929 and has the measure that everybody remembers: slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Jalousie of 1925, was one of the most popular Tangos of the 1920s. The postcard above from 1919 carries a reference to the popular Hesitation Tango:

Come let's make a dateTo Tango quite late,And when we get tiredWe'll just Hesitate.

Sounds of the Roaring Twenties

1920s dances: the Waltz

There are more than two dozen sounds of the Twenties on this MP3 album. I have featured some individual MP3s in the iTunes section but this is the full collection. You can also buy any of the individual tracks as separate MP3s. Many can be previewed for free. It even includes music for 1920s dances like the Camel Walk which I didn't have space to cover here.

The waltz significantly pre-dates the 1920s and to modern eyes seems an especially gentile dance; however in the late 19th century the waltz was somewhat risqué because the partners held each other. Not surprisingly dances like the Charleston were seen by some as dangerously corrupt.

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    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      I love seeing the old-fashioned dances in movies. This is a great collection that you've made here. I'll lensroll it to my What Is a Cakewalk lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I love this lens! Thank you for sharing all those wonderful old videos. I love all kinds of things about the 1920s! Featured on my blog, Foovay's Floozies.

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      What a great lens. I learned the waltz and foxtrot while I was at school. But I'm not really familiar with some of those other ones. Thanks for the education.

    • profile image

      outsource123 6 years ago

      Cheers, that lense was pure awesome.

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

      Have medals in Ballroom Dancing and can Charleston a little but would love to learn the Black Bottom! Thanks for the memories!

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      What a super lens! In Favorites so I can come back again. I love the exuberance of 1920s and 1930s music and in fact have a vintage music collection! Blessed today :)

    • sushilkin lm profile image

      sushilkin lm 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing. Nice Lens.. | Contribute your like to Pray for JAPAN

    • Recession Proof2 profile image

      Recession Proof2 6 years ago

      Good job, I'm enjoying your theme.

    • profile image

      Rachel J Singer 6 years ago

      This was very informative--I never knew anything about 20's music

    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 5 years ago

      Fun lens! I really enjoyed it! :)

    • profile image

      fullofshoes 5 years ago

      what a fun and interesting lens, thanks for sharing! I love to dance so this was extra fun to read.

    • profile image

      fullofshoes 5 years ago

      somehow these dances seem like they were so much more fun that the stuff the kids do today :) Great lens!

    • Saralyn LM profile image

      Saralyn LM 5 years ago

      Lots of fun dances back then!

    • profile image

      Echo Phoenix 4 years ago

      I would love to see the return of a dance era like this one:) cool lens!

    • profile image

      WhitePineLane 4 years ago

      Hi Kate - I've really enjoyed this lens! I always say the best lenses are the ones you stay on the longest, and I've spent about a half an hour here! I sure couldn't say that about too many lenses! I love how you explained each dance and had videos to go along with each one. Very cool - very well done!

    • ShariBerry profile image

      Sharon Berry 4 years ago from Michigan

      What a wonderful era. I could dance to that music all night long!

    • profile image

      liz-rosenberg-79 4 years ago

      Great site-- thanks so much! Loved watching the old dances, hearing the old music and looking at the old fashions.

    • worldflashpacker profile image

      worldflashpacker 4 years ago

      What a great lens, fab ideas. Thanks for sharing.

    • CoeGurl profile image

      CoeGurl 4 years ago from USA

      These dances are so elegant. Makes me want to take ballroom dance lessons. : )

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