Shag rhythms no longer matter

A perspective on rhythms from a champion shag dancer

Before I start, let me define what I believe as multi-rhythm shag. To me, multi-rhythm shag is basically any combination of slows and quicks, slows and holds, whatever that fits in the framework of the dance. So, SSQQ (Double,) SSQQQQ (the long double,) SQQSQQ (Single,) QQ (Even), SS(Quad), SQQQQS/SQQS (endpoint ), S/Triple, Step/Holds ....  Whatever... It's the ability to stitch whatever rhythm you want into your shag style, while still keeping it shag.

As I go much more deeply into my own study of shag, I've found that rhythms no longer matter to me, at least as a dancer.  Obviously it's a totally different ball game when it comes to being an instructor or a choreographer, but either way, it's pretty liberating to make such a bold statement in my own head to myself. It's a little scary to say something like this in a blog record, but I might as well.

There was a time when I really enjoyed the simplicity of a single rhythm (double) and I used to believe it was was cornerstone to the style. But on the flip side, I always thought it was too pattern like. And me personally, I've always had the urge to fight my own pattern ruts by jumping way into another section of dance, like lead/follow, musicality, levels, flash, natural, whatever. For my own desire to advance my shag competency, I started studying other rhythms of shag or styles, like St. Louis and Single Shag.

Well it wasn't long before I saw some of the features of other genres or rhythm that simply didn't quite fit into the standard double basic. On the other hand, all the merits and features of double existed fully in single. I was immediately hooked and jumped in full force into other shag rhythms. Anything I road I could find I was going down it was like every time I opened a door into a different pattern a whole new set of opportunities popped up and I loved it.

And man was that a can of worms. Everybody's opinion that mattered to me agreed that it was beautiful shag, but there were all these people saying it needs to be one or the other, like the camps in the savoy versus hollywood days. I totally felt like an outlier and used to literally practice double-only-shag just because. It was a total mind game for quite a long time.

I really did want to carry the message of multi-rhythm or at least single rhythm.  Eventually I started thinking I was doing an disservice by not really going out with it.  It started slow at first, first working with a stream of partners, then single shag workshops, then it made it into my weekly classes... and so on.

Still though, it was a huge mind game from day one. Consider all the factors ....

  • The rest of the world focused mostly entirely on double shag socially, and I am one of the few shag teachers out there
  • I was a double shagger too, all my workshops through the late 90's and up until about 2008 had all been double, as was most of social shag
  • Most all other teachers have been teaching only double or relative patterns off double
  • Hell, I was the only lead I knew that was even doing single.

That was quite a while ago now and a lot has changed. I don't remember really when I started mixing everything up into one, and I don't remember when I started to not worry about it as much. It must have happened over time.

I do know what it's like now though. Just a few nights ago I was out with my partner Jaime and we were just shagging up a storm.  After one specific song I attempted to retrace my steps. I started in double, danced a good bit in 5/7 because artie shaw does that to me, did single on the girls footwork for who knows how long, went through evens, quads, all of it. It was all just strong and unplanned social shag with bullet fast rhythm specific turns, micro connections galore, variations and patterns up the wazoo, and all of it was totally integrated into the partnership. To me, that's what shag is all about, when you and your partner both feel it in your bones together and the shag just comes out of a dead on connection.

My classes have long since been multi rhythm too. We'll walk in, pick a few connections, patterns, or whatever, and just go through them. Seems to make good sense to me, focus on the quality of movement of connections first, the quality of movement through the transitions. After that, then you apply it to a rhythm. It's really fun to watch sometimes.

Laura K and Jeremy A have both told me that balboa balboa is a 2 count dance, not an 8 count dance. I like that.
I wouldn't quite say the same thing about shag, but I do think it opens up considerably into something quite more vast if you look beyond just the trusty slow, slow, quick, quick.



Here's a video that shows general rhythmic adjustments.  The class was on connections, but the video shows how the rhythms and moves are less important than the connections that lead them.  Everybody in the class did fine with all this content.