A common incarnation of the man's basic step is as follows:
(count) 1: Left foot straight back, committing most or all of the weight.
2: Replacing weight to right foot.
3: Kicking forward with the left foot, weight remaining on the right (placing the foot too early is a common mistake for beginners which causes them to get ahead of the music).
4: Stepping forward onto the left foot and committing all the weight to the foot.
5: Kicking forward with the right foot.
6: Lifting the right foot.
7: Kicking the right foot back or back and to the side.
8: Stepping back onto the right foot, preparing for count 1.
Many variations on this footwork are commonly seen, particularly in the size of the steps and height of the kicks. Charleston is danced by some in a very understated, minimalistic style, and by others very energetically.
Among the numerous variations in style, the 1st, 4th, 5th and 8th steps are the most consistent. Counts 5, 6, 7 and 8 simply transfer the right foot from the front to the back, and thus provide lots of room for variation. For instance:
5: Kick forward 6: Pull right foot back 7: Kick forward again 8: Step back and place weight
The lady's part when dancing with a partner is the same as the man's, except that she moves the opposite foot (but in the same direction - NOT the natural opposite as in Waltz where she moves the opposite foot in the opposite direction). IE., she begins by stepping back on her right foot. When dancing tandem style with a partner and in other situations, however, the lady does exactly the same footwork as the man.
Charleston can be danced solo, its simple, flexible basic step making it easy to concentrate on style and musicality.
When dancing solo or in groups, the hands are often swung forward and back, opposite the direction of the corresponding foot. Often the fingers are held together pointing sideways away from tbe body, leaving the palms parallel to the floor.
A common formation for dancing in groups is to form two long lines of dancers facing each other. Each dancer should have arms' width of space to himself laterally and the lines should be around 6 feet apart.
The default is to dance a basic step. One person will typically then call out a variation (such as turning 360 degrees in place on counts 5-8), which is then done by everyone beginning the next measure and again for the following 2 measures. If the caller doesn't call another step immediately, the dancers return to the basic step. Switching sides is sometimes called, upon which the dancers hop on the left foot across to the other side on counts 5-8, turning 180 degrees to the left.
When dancing in couples, the basic hold is for the lady to stand next to the man on the man's right side. The man holds the lady's right hand with his left. The man's right hand is placed on the lady's waist on her right side; thus he can lead her right side with his hand, in conjunction with his forearm across her lower back. The lady's left hand is placed on the man's right shoulder.
To lead the basic step, then, the man uses his right hand to lead the lady's right side (and thus foot) back as he steps back on his left foot. He then leads her right side forward as he kicks and steps forward on counts 3 and 4. Likewise, the mirror-image lead continues for the second half of the step.