Princeton Hoofers: LIFE Goes to a Charleston Dance Contest, 1949

Princeton Charleston dance contest, 1949
Martha Holmes—Time & LIfe Pictures/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. "Easy step is tried first. Barbara twists one foot and steps back on other in a basic step. Tiger shags and trucks in step more reminiscent of jitterbugging than Charleston."

A November 1949 issue of LIFE featured a wonderfully animated addition to the magazine’s long-running “LIFE Goes to a [fill in the blank here]” franchise, in which the magazine’s photographers chronicled everything from a black magic “hex party” — convened in order to cast spells on Adolf Hitler — to a snail-watching society in England.

The 1949 article in question, meanwhile, featured . . . well, let’s let LIFE set the scene:

The Charleston craze that splintered dance floors in the ’20s is staging a stubborn comeback, so much so that this year the usual elegance of Princeton’s annual Prince-Tiger dance was abandoned for a furious foot-shaking, hair-mussing Charleston contest. In spirt with the Charleston theme, enthusiastic revivalists came in ankle-length raccoon coats, their dates in waistless, sacklike flapper dresses. The enthusiasm even spread to the Princeton tiger in the person of a freshman cheerleader named Ed Craig, who took a few Charleston lessons from somebody else’s date, a girl named Barbara Pettit.

Pettit, it turns out, went on to win the contest (with another partner, not with Tiger Ed). Ivy Leaguers, it seems, weren’t like other collegians back in the day. The more things change . . .

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