I Did the Charleston and Was Applauded Like a Ballerina

February 17, 2016

It must have been October last year when my father, a professional pianist and ragtime expert, asked me it I’d be interested in dancing during a concert. The Tulsa Children’s Museum wanted him to be a part of their Family Concert Series: Ragtime Family Concert with Donald Ryan on January 17, 2016. My dad was nobody’s fool; he has taught his fair share of youngsters and knew he needed a visual aide to keep the audience engaged. I and a partner of my choosing were to keep the kiddies’ attention on the stage.

I chose one Jamin Jackson, one of the two people who introduced me to lindy hopping. Jamin is an internationally known swing dancer and instructor, so he was a pretty safe bet for a partner who could learn “new” old dances and pull them off. The maxixe, the Ragtime-era waltz, the one-step (also known as “Castle Walks,” though we weren’t being formal enough), and the two-step—I made sure that my father told the audience that we were social dancing. Like the dancers of the ragtime era, we improvised, decorated the basic steps with only a couple of fancy moves, and did our best to pay as much attention to the music as to our footwork. Then for the last song of the performance Dad started playing Eubie Blake’s “Charleston Rag.”

We knew this was coming. I had requested it. After all, Charleston is one of the styles that my partner and I are most comfortable. What we did not expect was the audience’s reaction to tandem Charleston, one of the most common moves in the dance. I felt like a real live performing artist then, with vivid memories of reacting the same way to prima ballerinas pirouetting around the stage. I also desperately wished for a better pair of era-appropriate shoes. Only the stirrup tights that I had put on over the shoes kept them on my feet. Boy howdy, if I had been wearing my sneakers…

Yes, I am available for parties.