Awakening Collegiate Shag

Somebody called Collegiate Shag the "forgotten bad ass dance." I can't accept that, at least the part about it still being forgotten. I believe there are many things we can do, as teachers or as Collegiate Shag supporters to awaken and advance the beautiful style.

Here's what I think we need to do.

Practice Collegiate Shag like you mean business:

We can all afford to practice our craft. The dance itself is unusual in that when people see it, they tend to pipe down and watch and just marvel at the look. If we put our best foot forward through ungodly hours worth of practice, not only will it be interesting looking, but it will come across as a refined style, and refined and well executed dancing seems to interest newcomers.

Push the limits and create your own Collegiate Shag style:

Let's be honest, though we've all seen most all of it, there really isn't much 'vintage' footage out there to push us. Swing dancing itself has advanced far beyond the founding dancer footage, and I believe that to be even more true with Collegiate Shag. There simply isn't enough of it.  As you are practicing, learn all the basics from the clips, then add your own style. There is PLENTY of room, and it happens to be the same way the style grew regionally back in the 30's and 40's.

I personally prefer technical intricacy and big aerials in my dance so I've modified a few tricks and aerials specifically for shag. I've also come up with a few things (mostly technical) along my own personal style of dance that seem to work extremely well within the shag framework. This is my style of shag, but I think we all should be doing the same thing. I'd like to see what YOU can do with the style too.! Mix as few as 50 people worldwide into a group of people who are all doing the same thing, and who knows what will happen. As long as we are committed to the framework of the style, to me, it's all shag.

Overtly veto the 'intro' class mentality:

I am totally fed up with all the "one month shag courses." You know the type. Students come in, learn the basics, the moon kick, the jig, etc., and then they are 'done.'  What else is there really? Collegiate shag is a novelty specialty dance only done by a few. And you're lucky to see it once a month. right?

What kind of hogwash is that? And why are we allowing it to happen. Sure, studio owners know that we can pack a room full of intro shag dancers and they'll push for it, but is that really what we should be doing? It's a complete paradox. There really AREN'T that many people out there willing to even step into an intermediate shag level class, and far fewer beyond that, but unless we truly focus on advancing technique for shag itself, it will always be a beginner's dance.

Put the best you can do in front of as many new eyes as you can:

I can't even count how many times I've been on either a competition or performance floor with lindy routines. So, one day I had this idea, why the hell hadn't done the same thing for Shag? I started a performance routine the next day, lightning fast, clean/new tricks, clean air just for shag, and just overall a good all shag piece to inspire some new eyes.

After we showed it on the main stage of NYC's famous dance parade there were plenty of calls to our studio all wanting to learn the style. Showing at the local swing venues sparked interest too, but it was all the new eyes from the non swing performances that brought in the new students.

The way I see it, if you care, put something together, get out there, and represent.

Practice and Teach Single Rhythm Collegiate Shag:

There are already many who disagree with this, but I think SR Collegiate Shag may be a better platform for modern shag to evolve from. (Double Rhythm is six count and more often practiced on social floors -- single rhythm is an eight count basic).

How many dance studios succeed teaching only east coat six count basics? Those are almost intro to what's to come, lindy, west coast, smooth, and blues. And for everybody that is taking dance classes and working on any forms of musicality, how much more difficult would it be to teach them to work six count musicality into the 8 counts of music?

This is a double edged sword in that most die hard dancers have mastered the style in six counts, but as I venture into my own style I just keep asking myself why do we continue to teach this way? I can do six count too, but to me single rhythm just seems like a better platform to grow skill from.

Goofy does not attract new students:

This style  has a history of goofy moves and looks. I personally believe that may be one detrimental property of our style. Who's going to pay money to take classes  from people that are asking them to look like tools? Or who's going to want to mimic a couple that, historic accuracy or not, does one of those goofy moves that was perfect for the camera in 1941? Those were different times. Those times had different audiences. As far as I'm concerned, goofy is a historical property of the style that we need to modify to a more modern audience.

Finally, remember to balance having fun with a strong attitude of anti-mediocrity:

All the points I made above are minor compared to two driving principles of shag -- it looks great and it's fun to do. Shag is about kicking ass. It's high energy and mind blowing, even to the untrained eye. And to those that practice, it's pure enjoyment mixed with some serious adrenaline. If you forget it's about having fun like I sometimes do, it'll drive you insane.

See you on the floor.

-- tony fraser