Teaching le Charleston Stroll – the Port Sainte Marie Method

photo by peter ayres

Teaching the Charleston Stroll has become the mainstay of the Mudflappers’ festival swing dance teaching. I think there’s three reasons why it is so popular with crowds: the footwork is easy to pick up, which means that people can quickly overcome their fear of not being able to dance; the fantastic feeling you get from being in a large group of people all moving in sync with each other and the music; and finally there’s the snowball effect whereby a group of people dancing together keeps drawing more and more people in.

This year, the Mudflappers performed in the village of Port Sainte Marie in the south-west of France as part of the country’s national Fete de la Musique. We had already performed four routines and the crowd wanted a lesson. Le Charleston Stroll was the obvious choice. But rather than teach the usual set of variations (fearing being incomprehensible after one-too-many peach juice-infused presssions) we came up with a cunning teaching method. We prominently stationed one Mudflapper on each of the four corners of the crowd, standing on, say, a bench. The crowd did the basic routine facing me and then turned to face the bank, where that Mudflapper would do a variation and everyone would copy. They would then turn to face the town hall where another dancer demoed another variation, and so on, until we faced the front again. Holding the microphone, all I had to do was shout, ‘vers la banque’, ‘vers la mairie’, ‘vers la route’ and ‘vers la Garonne’ – using my best beginner French.

And it worked. At 11:30pm in the heart of a sleepy French village in which in all my life I have never seen more than four people congregate, we had 50-odd people doing the Charleston Stroll. The Port Sainte Marie technique as it will henceforth be called is now standard issue in the Mudflappers manual – coming soon to a festival/soirée musicale near you.