charleston, social dance of the United States popular in the mid-1920s. The charleston is characterized by outward heel kicks combined with an up-and-down movement achieved by bending and straightening the knees in time to the syncopated 4/4 rhythm of ragtime jazz. The steps are thought to have originated with the blacks living on a small island near Charleston, S.C. Performed in Charleston as early as 1903, the dance made its way into Harlem stage shows by 1913. The male chorus line danced and sang James P. Johnson's "Charleston" in the musical Runnin' Wild on Broadway in 1923. Both dance and song, expressive of the reckless daring, abandon, and restlessness of the jazz-age flappers, soon became the rage throughout the United States.