Renowned for being one of the finest Art Deco hotels in London, Claridge’s is celebrating their glamorous heritage with the launch of Charleston Master Classes. In partnership with The Bees Knees – quite simply the finest flappers in the city – this has to be the most exciting way to learn some new moves. The magnificent newly refurbished and mirrored ballroom is just the place for such antics and, with bobbed hair, be-tasseled dresses, and satin evening gloves, the Bees Knees girls looked right at home.
I was transported to the heyday of Claridge’s own Jazz Age which began when the hotel’s interior was given a startlingly modern make-over by architects Oswald Milne and Basil Lonides in the 1920s. Both men pioneered the clean lines of the newly fashionable Art Deco movement, with which Claridge’s since became synonymous. It was a style that perfectly reflected a changing London society belonging to the decadent and party-loving Bright Young Things. For the first time women were counting calories, and dancing the Charleston proved both a fun way to stay in shape, not to mention an excellent excuse for adopting the latest shorter dress styles.
Named after the harbour city in South Carolina, the Charleston became an immediate sensation after being featured in the Broadway musical Runnin’ Wild in October 1923. Josephine Baker is often credited with introducing the Charleston to France, the popularity of which soon reached London. In 1927, Pathé News made a film for British cinema audiences whereby dance instructors Santos Casani and Jose Lennard illustrated three Charleston steps which the audience were encouraged to try in their seats. After announcing “some people think the Charleston needs a lot of space – it doesn’t – look at this…” they could be seen dancing the Charleston on the roof of a London cab as it journeyed through the city – an iconic image of such a carefree and fun-loving era.
Today, with speakeasies and Prohibition-style parties springing up all over the capital, you might be as well to take some dance tips from the professionals. It’s a revival which shows no sign of waning thanks to the release of the Baz Luhrmann-directed The Great Gatsby film starring Leonardo DiCaprio later this year. The fact that the Charleston is a versatile dance which can be performed alone, with a partner, or in a group, lends itself extremely well to this type of event.
Guests are encouraged to dress for the occasion, after all, flappers knew how to attire themselves for ease of movement, nor can the right footwear be underestimated. Not only am I “rhythmically challenged ” but I almost killed a flapper when my ballet pump flew off mid-routine. Such is the energy and speed with which your feet will attempt to keep up! The 90 minute lessons, led by The Bees Knees founder Aila Floyd, include all the key Charleston steps such as the ‘scare crow’, ‘bunny hop’ and ‘bees knees’ and promise to have you giggling, panting with exhaustion, and dancing a routine worthy of Josephine Baker. Just soak up the roaring Twenties atmosphere and shimmy away!
Your efforts will be duly rewarded with a well earned rest, the restorative ‘Flapper’ cocktail (a delicious muddle of champagne, strawberries and Crème de Cassis) originally created for the opening of Claridge’s ballroom in 1929, and a performance by The Bees Knees, brilliantly choreographed and showcasing the frivolity and enchantment of the age – a treat for any fan of the era – Claridge’s and The Bees Knees make learning the Charleston an unforgettable experience.
15 ml Crème de Cassis
Small scoop of crushed ice
Method: Combine ingredients in blender, pour and enjoy. Garnish with half a strawberry on rim of glass.
Charleston Master Classes will take place once a month at Claridge’s, Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR, on the following days – 18th March, 15th April, 13th May 2013 from 6.30-8.30pm. £125 per lesson. To make a reservation telephone: + 44 (0) 20 7201 1618 or email email@example.com. Website.