These days almost any competition worth its salt hosts a solo charleston competition; we have them at renowned events like ULHS and RAF, older events such as ALHC, and all sorts of other competitions. Camps and workshops often feature a couple of solo classes to compliment their array of partnered ones; additionally there are a few special events like Stompology which focus exclusively on solo dance.
The charleston was supposedly developed or at least got its name from Charleston, South Carolina in the first few years of the 1900′s. Although the rhythm was popularized through various shows, particularly Runnin’ Wild with music by James P. Johnson entitled “The Charleston” in 1923, it could be found in black communities for twenty years prior. It can be found in all sorts of old films dating from this period; it was generally danced either solo or in a walking (face-to-face) position. Dancers, particularly white females, were labeled flappers for the semi-birdlike resemblance that their motions had.
The lindy hop adopted many of the charleston variations into the dance and later versions of solo charleston can be seen in footage from the Spirit Moves collection and in this piece by Al Minns and Leon James.
Solo charleston today has sprung back into popularity due perhaps in part to the competition footage from ULHS for 2004 which has reached so many dancers. It features spectacular dancing with a final dance-off between Frida Segerdahl and Jojo Jackson. They have distinctly different styles but remain firmly rooted with the jazz vernacular. Many solo charleston competitions to come would see the emulation of these world-class dancers.
With its growing popularity there has been a growing selection of dancers to watch and acquire different styles and feelings within solo charleston. Take the dance-off from ULHS 2006 between Max Pitruzella and Sharon Davis; it has a vastly different look from the almost gawky dance that we see in the 1920′s flappers; sharper, more athletic. Max is rhythmic and sharp with a definite urban edge while Sharon is softer and keeps to a more recognizable jazz repertoire.
Finally we have a whole new generation of dancers coming up where solo charleston is an integral part of their early dance education. This years Rhythmics Arts Festival solo charleston competition winner is a young girl named Brieaunna or Brianna from San Diego. Check her out here.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Swift from ULHS 2007.