It's kind of difficult for most people to understand how physically demanding fast music dancing is, much less understand how even more demanding fast shag is. And yes as a fast music dancer I do believe fast shag requires a considerable amount of effort, to me more than any other style. I think I can explain it though if I just introduce it from a runner's perspective. To set the stage for the parallel though, I have to talk about my experience as a runner.
I used to run, and I mean a lot. Possibly more than the reader of this blog entry will ever meet. I started as a kid and then pretty much ran competitively from somewhere middle school until I got out of the military. I was, am and always will be fast for mid and long distance running. By the time I was in the military and on the 3/325 RECON team, there wasn't a time on the 2 mile track when I didn't qualify to try out for the professional running team of the United States Army.
So what's it like to be a runner like that? I say once you reach the almost pro levels, well you've already gone through all the physical stuff so it becomes completely mental. Competitive mid and long range runners go as fast as their bodies can take them while managing consistant pace, long term sustanability of that pace, and being careful to not over push the body into some form of overexertion. It's like driving a race car. You can't take it to 9,000RPM or the engine will blow up, but if you run it at 8,000RPM, it can go until either the road ends or you run out of gas.
Interestingly enough, my red line was always that point where I'm just about to puke. Seems like I was there every time I ran, and towards the end of my running career I puked at just about every finish line I crossed. Usually if I kept my stride for the whole race, puking at the end meant I most likely just back to back identical mile speeds. I puked in the middle of many races too though and that sucks, but that's a different story, one that proves I never transitioned to into being a professional runner.
Though I always ran, I've always hated running for obvious reasons most runners understand. Since day one I was built to run fast and never really had the luxury of being able to take a slow jog. That just never really computed to me. Even in the beginning it started as a mind game. Racing at the red line. Training at the red line. Visualizing being at that red line. Finding ways to push the red line. Cross training with similar red lines. Wanting to win, which means pushing the red line even though I was operating at max potential. A huge chunk of my life was a constant state of either being in, just coming out of, or knowing that I was about to re-enter ungodly physical pain that I used to put myself through. I have no idea if runners actually like doing what they do, to me it was some sort of torture. In my circles, everybody used to do exactly the same thing though so I never really knew alternatives.
I managed this pain mostly by listening to music, at least in training. My headphones were the only thing that kept me from going insane or from slowing down. And, music has a constant BPM, and running to a BPM helps smooth out a runner's pace. One of my favorite songs for outdoor type runs was an old school 80's rap song called "The Show" by Doug-E-Fresh. I must have used it a hundred plus times. I was pretty consistent with this song. I usually could do about a 5:30'ish mile if I ran footstrikes on the beat. It's still one of my favorite running songs.
That basically sets the stage for the similarities between competitive running and fast shag. Running has a pace. Shag has a pulse. In shag we all know the pulse is related to beats per minute (BPM.) And in running, advanced runners can almost run a pace like shaggers pulse through the song. It's not identical though, for instance in shag, you can't draft, you don't have to adjust speeds for hills, etc. It's pretty damn close to the same thing the way I've experienced them.
"The Show" is about 200BPM which has all sorts of significance to me both as a shagger and a runner. As a runner, I used to like to 'block out the pain' by running in areas with obstacles, like trails or on street sides. I'd use hits in the music to sort of accent my runs, like jumping on the little walkways, jumping 360's off whatever I could, running on my toes, etc. Basically having a little fun instead of thinking about the cramps, the pain, etc. Five and a half minute miles is also about the pace where I'd call it just about my easy pace. It may be fast to some, but it was my personal comfort pace that allowed me to not quite hit the red line. It's about the same in shag for me. At 200BPM I can get a good style going, some gliding lilt, easy weight change leads with my partner, it's basically an easy speed for me to shag to. I may get a good sweat, but nothing is off limits yet because of speed.
Still, I know for a fact I can both run and shag faster than that. The current world record for the mile (in the two mile track) is about 4 minutes and my record was 4 minutes and 35 seconds. Now if all the chemistry style math I have scribbled next to me is correct, to shag at world record running speeds, I would estimate I would have had to keep the same stride (distance between foot strikes, mine was just a tad less than 3 feet) to a 265BPM song for 8 minutes. Think all physical aspects the same of my running to Doug E Fresh, except running to Hand Clappin' by Red Prysock -- for eight straight minutes.
Well there's no way in hell I could get my short little legs that fast to cover a full 3 foot stride for every beat. Hell I'd be lucky if I could move my leg 12 inches at that speed, and I damn sure wouldn't be able to jump off a curb, run around trees, whatever. It'd be a straight line -- straight as a 2 mile arrow.
Still, I've definitely danced to that song and I dance to 250+ on a reasonably regular basis. It's just a very different dance. To me, fast shag is about endurance, keeping your movements in check because there tangible limitations to how far you can move body parts at that speed, and of course you just have to try not to freakin' die which is probably the biggest difficulty in shag at that speed. For me, it's a lot like running in the sub 5 zone, you filter out whatever you can just to try to keep up.
As for leading fast shag, at 200BPM I am able to throw a lead in between the 1 and the 2 of an SR basic pretty easily. But at 270, I'm lucky if I can get it sometime between 8 and 3 of an an 8 count basic because my body is red lining and there's just fractions of a second to hit a mark, shift my weight much less my followers, etc. At least to me, it definitely adjusts what is possible in the overall style.
When I dance fast, I focus more on dynamic lead sets as opposed to rhythmic or pulse driven leads. I also am hesitant to 'lead' things in closed with somebody I do not partner with. I may do a little more visual leading because it'd probably easier for a follow to pick up something with her eye at that speed than it is to attempt to feel something at top speed. And of course, because one of the goals is to find ways of communicating at that speed, there's a completely different set of techniques that take over at about 250BPM that you should practice at slower speeds before you try to use them above 250.
The moral of this blog entry is dancing to fast music is a different animal altogether. I believe I have just effectively compared to world class competitive running to shagging at speeds over 250BPM. That said, you may want to cut yourself some slack when the music goes above 210 or so. You may want to start running if you want to dance faster. And of course, you may want to find a teacher who can teach technique specific to fast music speeds.