1920 – Blackbottom and Charleston

In the 1920s, the Blackbottom, and Charleston were popular dances among middle classes in urban US and Europe.

Significant dances

The Blackbottom originated in New Orleans as a stamping, swaying “Negro” dance. The words for the original Blackbottom dance by Perry Bradford in 1919 were: “Hop down front and then you doodle back/Mooch to your left and then you mooch to your right/Hands on hips and do the Mess Around/Break a leg until you’re near the ground.” Musical Producer George White saw the Blackbottom performed in a Harlem nightclub. White bought the music and introduced it to white audiences in his “Scandals of 1926.” The dance was then popularized and modified for the ballroom.

Scholars of African dance have traced the Charleston to Trinidad and West Africa. In the nineteenth century, black minstrel dancers danced the “patting Juba,” a routine of slapping the hands and the knees, thighs, and body in a rhythmic display. Introduced to Broadway in 1923 in the play Running Wild, its popularity flourished. The independent roles of the dancing couple express the newly emancipated attitude of the “flapper.”

Historical context

  • US Presidents were Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.
  • US policies included isolationism and prohibition.
  • The voting age for American women is reduced to 21 from 30 in 1920.
  • The Ku Klux Klan makes violent attacks in the US.
  • Trotsky is expelled from the Russian communist party.
  • Mussolini forms a Fascist, Italian government.
  • The German economy collapses and Hitler begins his rise to power.


  • B. Yeats, Hemingway, Stein, St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, Bertrand Russell, and Emily Post produce important works.


  • Nijinsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Ziegfield Follies influence the music scene.
  • American expat and entertainer Josephine Baker reins in Paris.

Visual arts:

  • Picasso, Braque, Miro, Kandinsky, Leger, Utrillo influence the art scene.
  • First “talkie,” or non-silent film, is released: Al Jolson stars in The Jazz Singer; Chaplin, Valentino, and Mary Pickford are popular.


  • Albert Schweitzer, Einstein, Jung, Freud make important contributions to their fields
  • Penicillin is discovered.

Daily life:

  • The twenties are the golden age of radio broadcasting.
  • The crossword puzzle proliferates.
  • Most Americans live in cities.
  • Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic in the first solo flight.
  • The stock market swells—and crashes.
  • Hitler publishes Mein Kampf.

Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

AMERICA DANCES! 1897-1948: A Collector’s Edition of Social Dance in Film: Blackbottom, Charleston

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume II: 20th Century: Blackbottom, Charleston

GERMAN LINEAGE IN MODERN DANCE: Solos by Wigman * Hoyer * Holm * Nikolais * Louis

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