Piccolo Spoleto brings home the Charleston dance

Lisa Lauren Smith, vocal headliner in "The Charleston," rehearsing at Marion's in the French Quarter on East Bay St.

Evoking the flappers of the Roaring Twenties and Big-Band Era, Piccolo Spoleto showcases the evolution of a local dance with a new floor show from May 29 to June 1.

"The Charleston" is the debut production of Charleston Performing Arts Center (C-PAC), a growing nonprofit organization looking to nurture performing arts in the area.

Kirk Sprinkles, co-founder and artistic director of C-PAC, wrote and conceived the show with Scott Pfieffer, co-founder and executive director of C-PAC.

"There was a missing link here that no one had ever capitalized on," said Sprinkles about his choice of the dance as a subject for his new production. "This is a show I hope to introduce and to become a staple here in Charleston, especially for the tourism industry."

The production tells how the Charleston dance had its roots in the black community, developed in the Holy City and became a craze around the world. Virginia, a fictional proprietor of a cabaret club in 1942, slips into her memories of herself as a young girl living in Charleston and going to New York City to pursue a dance career. The show also introduces the influence the dance had on music, from ragtime to swing jazz.

This is an immersive cabaret show. The audience will be seated at tables as in a nightclub, with bar service available, and the performers dancing within arms' reach. The finale is a Charleston dance lesson with the cast.

"Once you're in it you don't breathe, you don't blink," said Gina Artese, a featured dancer in the cast. "Every note is a different step."

Artese is currently a principal ballerina on NBC's television series The Blacklist and has made appearances in films such as Black Swan (2010) and Something Borrowed (2011).

The Charleston's quick choreography is a challenge physically and mentally even for a professional ballet dancer like Artese. Ballet is all en pointe, a ballet technique in which the dancer supports the body on pointed toes. In the Charleston, dancers move around in character shoes with heels that require a completely different way of balancing.

"You're constantly thinking of steps, but it has been absolutely fantastic," said Artese.

Olivia Yang is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.