Sometimes I come across a photo in our collections that just tickles me pink, but also makes me want to learn more. One such photo of two dancing dames alongside a congressman led me to pictures of the Charleston dance craze taking the nation’s capitol by storm and sent me digging deeper in the hopes of finding a fantastic story.
Not only did our catalog reveal related images, but the Library’s subscription newspaper databases turned up articles citing outrageous moments from the early years of the Charleston dance craze, including athletes refining their footwork and teens literally dancing to death. Even the fear of buildings collapsing due to the synchronous vibrations of the Charleston led cities across the U.S. to prohibit the dance from public halls!
A March 11, 1926 New York Times article revealed that wrestlers and football squads at both Penn State and West Virginia University performed the Charleston in their cleats as part of their training regimen. Several other articles quoted doctors who noted the health benefits of the Charleston, as long as the moves are executed properly with precision! In the two photos below, Miss Vivian Marinelli demonstrates the finer points of the Charleston to a D.C. basketball team, hopefully refining their footwork along the way.
It seems athletes shook things up with more than just Charleston dance moves. The below photo shows some dancers inspiring Washington National baseball players to twinkle their toes as well!
According to news sources, the Charleston not only made an impact in the United States, but also around the world. The Boston Daily Globe shared a story on March 15, 1927, of how an Australian man’s intimate knowledge of the Charleston saved his life from an attacking cannibal tribe- when he broke into dance they followed suit, hoping to learn the dance themselves, and they ultimately returned him to safety. This dance certainly made its way around. Have you given it a whirl?
- View more images of dancing in Washington D.C. in our Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- Take a look at selected images of fads, dress, and trends from the Twenties.
- Read about Ragtime and other dance crazes in the evolution of social dance in the Library’s “An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490 to 1920”
- Search the Chronicling America newspaper database for stories of different topics that intrigue you!