Awakening Collegiate Shag II

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It’s been quite a while since I published the Awaking Collegiate Shag article in May 2010. I had no idea it would be the single most read article on any of my websites but it definitely has been, at least as far as dance related content is. As I travel around the globe teaching shag, many have talked to me about these points. I think it's probably a good time to revisit each of these points. And please stay tuned as my next entry will be about a few new points I would like to get out there for discussion.

The original points of Awakening Collegiate Shag :

1. Practice shag like there’s no tomorrow.

I still believe in practice – and I practice a lot. To me, practice is everything, and the practice is what I love most. Practice leads to both mental and physical understanding of the dance, my partner, my partnership and myself. It also continually reinforces both the laws of physics and my own physical limitations.

Still the original intent of this point has changed.  I used to practice for the perfect connection with my partner in all cases, all positions, all pulse and rhythm variations, basically anything I could possibly imagine that would lead me to a better partner for my follower. – Unmistakable lead / close your eyes and feel it kind of practice. I still believe strongly in this, but I practice a little of everything.

For example, right about the time I wrote this article, I purposely phased a huge chunk ‘dancing in open visual lead’ kind of things just because it didn’t require a strong lead/follow connection with a partner. To me it felt more like pair choreography while holding hands. After traveling around to different global regions and really listening to the students, yes, they definitely wanted to connect more deeply with their partners, but they also liked some of the fancy footwork that made shag famous. And eventually, I put back on my fancy footwork shoes again too.

Now, I pretty much practice everything. A bit more traditional looking stuff, mixed with the constant aim of being totally connected with my partner. A bit more practice in some of the obscurity of the style, still keeping working within the confines of wanting to still be the strongest leader I could be. A bit more double, but still remaining more focused on the rhythms of the music instead of the traditional shag patterns.

2. Push the limits and create your own shag style.

No change in this belief, but I think I should further explain it now that so many people have asked me about it.

It’s really simple to me. When you really seek to master your own style, what you are really doing is creating your own tool set to deal with your own surroundings. And the more you practice your style, the more capable you will be of doing great things.

Anybody remember watching the legendary dance between Los Angeles’s Peter Loggins and New York City’s Janice Wilson?  At the time of  that dance, both were sitting on top of their regional styles at the time.  And then for a few minutes, they came together with impromptu looks and concepts that inspired us all.

Shag is never going to be as all-dominant as Lindy Hop with 15 global camp per weekend that allow us to share exchange information and push the style.  Instead of setting a low standard of mediocrity of a half-baked global style, my vote is to support people who are pushing the styles within their own regions. I say support them even if they’re on the other side of the world shagging to bagpipes with an Irish step dancing version of the triple basic. If they're rocking it, they're rocking it.

Support the locals, we will have no choice but to believe in them when we see what they can do. And let's not forget that they're probably way out on a limb with shag in their community anyway.

3. Overtly veto the intro class mentality.

I suppose I’ve gone back and forth a few hundred times since I wrote Awakening 1. At the time, I was totally fed up the fact that so many people were interacting with our dance like it was some historical mantelpiece. I still see enough of that to support saying I still believe in the concept of overtly vetoing intro classes.

What has changed is the application of how I deal with this belief as both a shagger and a shag teacher.  My driving way of handling this belief now days is to stress the importance of teaching beginners and advanced dances at the same time.

Think about it. If you take a senior student into a room where beginners are being trained, they’ll probably not only learn a little about their own needs, but also how to help somebody make a stronger connection since that’s what most beginners need to understand the most. And if that one senior student gains a couple of tricks that will help them work more closely with a partner, then all the better for them when they start building their own style.

My new suggestion is teach one person at a time. We don't have 50 people to teach, so just focus on the person in front of you that is willing to learn. And for that person, do whatever we can to make them better at all sides of the dance, even those that aren't normally part of a dance class like teaching, the industry of instruction, dealing with people, whatever they need to be better for our community.

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

No change in this belief. Get eyes on your best performances, and keep practicing. I will say that I think it’s important to show both your best shag and very attainable shag when you are out in public.

There are few people around the globe that really have been there and know what truly advanced partner work looks like, and even that is difficult considering the vast difference in regional styles. Showing that stuff at lightning speeds is going to go right over the top of everybody’s heads, if not make shag look somewhat unattainable.

Think about your audience very carefully when you perform. If you are trying to show the potential of the dance, go nuts with your best. If you’re trying to draw students into the shag community, make it as attainable as you can however you can.

All that said, you’ll probably end up wanting to save really the advanced stuff for your nights out with your partner, your students, your practice sessions, your shag buddies, and your performances.

5. Practice and teach single shag.

I suppose this has changed too. I do still agree with the original point. I believe new shaggers need to learn a whole lot more shag in general, and specifically the pros and cons of multiple rhythms and styles. And as teachers, I think we do need to be teaching the shag that is most easy for a student to become familiar with. And yes, I think our several NYC big band jazz clubs influence both our music and our dance toward being better with single. But that’s definitely not true everywhere.

At one extreme end of the spectrum, you have this big beautiful big band jazz environment in New York City, totally driven by students and studios, and clubs that Frankie used to frequent. If you’ve ever listened to HRO, one of Frankie’s favorite bands, and tried to shag to it, my guess is it’ll feel only natural to dance mutli-rhythmically in your shag just like you do with your Lindy Hop, or at least that’s what it does to me. The music makes me want to change everything, my pulse, my rhythm, innovate something, it just makes me want to get creative. And for that, yes I think base single just fits better.

On the other extreme end of the spectrum, you have Senagalia Italy, 200k people music festival. It’s a shag-ready kind of a ‘cultural festival’ that resembles Viva (Bette Page hair styles, tattoos everywhere, blue jeans and cuffed shirts with cigarettes rolled into them.) Aside to only a handful of global Lindy Hoppers who attend, nearly all dancers there dance in six counts either in boogie or jive, and I really do think the entire 200k people do dance. Why do they do that? To me it fits the music perfectly.

Music like what goes on in Senagalia just doesn’t inspire me to find those same NYC multi-rhthmic grooves I get when jamming to Geroge Gee at Swing 46 – which is another favorite venue for Dawn, Frankie, etc. In New York, multi-rhythmic shag fits the music, the lifestyle, and the expectations of advanced musicality in a sea of skilled musical lindy hoppers. In Senagalia, it’s about the footwork, the consistency of a rhythm, etc.

For other types of music, like say jazz era stuff or gypsy, the lines are a lot more gray for me personally.

In New York, there’s also another huge factor that most other major cities don’t have, the influx of studio students into the scene. Our scene has maybe 100 strong dancers who are bordering tier one skill level over the next year, 500+ regular dancers, maybe 10,000 students who have taken a class in the past few months, and probably 75,000 who have taken a swing workshop or weekly in the past year.  That’s a whole lot of talent in the pipeline and most of it is strongly associated with studio type instruction.

It’s really simple, to hook into that pipeline, you have to get the students to leverage what they are familiar with and you have to do it within the pipeline they have chosen before they ever heard of shag. And you have to operate with the music they are hearing in the classes and at the clubs, the progression of classes they are getting outside of shag, and beside greatness in style they see from the NYC dancers. I can't remember a single student I've asked from this pipeline ever answering anything other than gratitude that they worked so heavily with multi-rhythm shag.

The reason I made this point in Awakening 1 was not only to suggest a style of shag for beginners, but also to imply that the NYC dance instruction system is probably one of the most effective around the globe. And if shag is becoming so successful here so quickly, other cities and instructors may be able to leverage some of the skill of this machine w/o training in studio management from the successful studios here. It’s not the rhythm of shag that is successful, it is all the NYC studios. We’re just plucking the best talent from that system in the way they need to be plucked.

6. Goofy does not attract new students.

I still fully agree with this. Maybe it's a NYC thing -- You just don't see that around here. Or maybe it is just my personality -- I am so far from being personally goofy I can't really relate to that part of our style's history.

7. Remember to balance having fun with a strong attitude of anti-mediocrity.

Still agree with this too. Study shag, and study your own capabilities. Advance your practice and don’t settle for mediocrity.