LET’S MISBEHAVE - and do the ‘Knocky Knees!’
“Every step you do… Leads to something new. Man, I’m telling you. It’s a lo-pa-zoo!”
– THE CHARLESTON 1923 Cecil Mack and James P. Johnson
Whenever you see old movie footage of flappers and their beaus dancing the Charleston, that popular dance of the mid 1920s, they deliver all the toes-in, heels-out twisting steps with bent knees and pivoting feet that you might expect. Weight shifts from one leg to another, the free leg kicks out from the body at oblique angles and all accompanied with a lunatic grin…
In the midst of all this wild abandon you’ll find a generous offering of ‘yo-yas’, tuck turns, ‘airplanes’ and ‘jaybirds’ but the one thing that seems to be lacking in these vintage performances is the characteristic ‘Knocky Knees’ - that strange legs crossing illusion that is now almost obligatory with modern interpretations of the dance. Is this because when the Charleston caught on in 1926 the flappers and beaus in their exuberance thought the ‘knocky knees’ routine was a bit cheesy? It certainly didn’t stop American-born French entertainer and star Josephine Baker from using it in her 1926 Charleston act… although she also included crossing her eyes as a mid-dance gag!
Here are the Gatsby Girls in full flapper action at the Newbury Festival in 2018 with plenty of knocky knees…
‘Knocky Knees’, also known as ‘Bees Knees’ and the ‘Charlie Brown’ is one of those unusual skills like palming coins, speaking ‘egg language’ and juggling that always goes down well after a few cocktails. It is also a firm favourite with kids. ‘Knocky Knees’ isn’t physically demanding and doesn’t take too long to learn. Let Elena Burslem show you how. As the man said, ‘It’s a lo-pa-zoo!’
– from Martyn Day