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
One of the issues I personally think shag has is the fact that it has no easy-to-learn, high-impact traditional dance to showcase the style and please the crowd. Well, as a dedicated shag and lindy dancer who’s worked on a number of team pieces in my life, and with the support of several NYC shaggers, I took on the project of coming up with one. I think we need a California routine like piece, except this isn’t California, and this ain't Lindy either, so enter “The Manhattan.”
The Manhattan Shag Routine project was designed around the following objectives.
1. EASY TO LEARN : It must be easy to learn with the structure of the dance taught in no more 2 hours to an intermediate level shagger. As many who do shag already know, micro connections, pulse variations or rhythm shifts can take months or longer to master. The Manhattan needs to be a piece of choreography for sequencing and outreach, not a tool to advance each individual shagger’s individual technical capability.
2. LEVERAGE WHAT EVERYBODY KNOWS: The Manhattan should sequence a good chunk of what shaggers already know together in a way that makes sense. There should be challenging pieces, but the dance should not be discouraging. I think it goes without saying that many take shag and learn a bunch of moves, but never learn or practice sequencing them together.
2. CHOREO TO FAVOR CHOREOGRAPHERS: The Manhattan must be ‘personalizable’ for choreographers. One of my favorite things about the California routine is any choreographer can take it, put it to music, and modify it fairly easily to match the crowd, the dancers, and the music.
3. RESPECT MANHATTAN ROOTS: Though it's not always used, the California routine has a standard song, Flyin’ Home. As the tribute to Manhattan, the “flyin’ home” song that we chose is Down South Camp Meetin’ by George Gee. George has been a staple of the NYC Shag Scene for quite a while. We tested the choreo with a few different songs including some rockabilly and a couple of other AABB songs, but like Flyin Home, there a few tiny places where the choreo will be more emphasized and crowd pleasing to the music. Still, just like the California routine to different music, it's really easy to modify the variation timing to make the Manhattan work with just about anything.
4. CROWD PLEASING STRUCTURE: The structure of the choreography needs to be crowd pleasing. In my opinion the greatest thing about the California routine is right at the beginning when everybody starts in closed and blasts into open at fast speeds. Or likewise in the Big Apple, everybody does flying charleston in a circle really covering ground. It’s all crowd pleasing, that’s why we often use these pieces of choreography for impromptu performances. We tried several different movements and placements to create the same feeling in the Manhattan.
5. TRADITIONAL BASE SHAG MOVEMENTS AND PATTERNS: The basic choreography should be traditional. Yes, there are visionary shaggers out there who can carry a show just fine, and I would hope they would partner up with strong dancers do to the Manhattan anyway.
6. FREE / TAKE IT: Just like the California routine has become, the Manhattan was designed entirely around the concept giving it away for the benefit of performance. Anybody who watches this should free to take all the movements and patterns, teach it, perform it, whatever works best for the scene. Our goal was only to create something that we and others can use to perform and share shag in an attempt to gain new blood, increase visibility and be inclusive to those who want to be involved with shag.
7. BEGINNERS AND ADVANCED CAN DANCE TOGETHER : Performances give more experienced dancers a surge of energy, and with a fairly fast routine like this, they're probably going to want to get down and funky. The structure of the choreo was designed in almost all areas to allow more advanced dancers to really branch out with style. It can be done entirely without variation, or it can contain some of the variations we have. (Like the heel-toe / bicycle kick can simply be an open basic, the hangman can simply be a jig kick or even a 90 degree basic in closed.) Totally new dancers can just do basics and get on the floor. Advanced dancers can vary and inspire. And of course, there's a jam section, and that's where individual couples can really shine with their own style, or demonstrate their regional style.
8. ASSUME A CHOREOGRAPHER WILL WANT TO CREATEA UNIQUE ENDING: To really seal the show, just like any other group piece, a choreographer will probably make the group come together at the end if nothing else, but for an ending pose. As this was created, we always assumed endings would be just as diverse choreographly creative as we've seen with the California.
9. LOTS OF 'ONE OF THESE' MORE ADVANCED MOVEMENTS: This piece was designed to have as many 'one of these things' as it can. There's a timing change, a level change, a flourish for the crowd, a highly compressed free spin, a single count pulse removal, a QQ lead out, etc. Sure, there could have been a lot more 'one of these' types of things in there, but each of these individual elements is complex enough and time is a constraint.
Special thanks to Jaime Shannon, Taylor Brandon, and Megan from the 212 Shag Masters for constant discussion and concept review.
Special thanks to NYC Shaggers Eryck Kratville, Andrew Fleming, Elizabeth Barabas, and Allyson Kabak for running so many different permutations until we came up with this piece of footage.
Special thanks to George Gee for allowing us to use his song.
Choreography for The Manhattan
2X spinning double shag basics (clockwise) -- movement towards downstage. Leader should start facing stage right, both basics should end with leader facing stage right.
2X counts of flee hop timing -- starting in closed facing stage right and ending in closed facing stage left.
2X spinning double shag basics (counter clockwise)
2X cross kicks (double shag versions) Leader faces downstage.
2x quad rhythm (8 counts) worth of half moon variations. Leader faces downstage.
2X double shag basics modified to be similar to a shag walk around, except ending in open with chests to the audience.
2x Log Rolls in open position
2x Heel / Toe variations on SS, with bycicle kick on the QQ.
1X tranition -- Heel/toe but qq is a forward slide. (this is a common QQ variation best practiced in normal timing. )
2X jig kicks -- second jig kick is a forward to back hangman.
1X slightly rotating outside free turn into jockey
2X wave kicks
(Collegiate Kicks Sequence -- 3X 6 counts)
-- Kick/Double Kick (six counts)
--Double Kick / Double Kick (eight counts)
--Down / Up (hold remove pulse on down, remove pulse on up)
2X outside turns (the ZM turn looks better but is considerably more difficult)
1X Down Up. Note -- our group all thinks it is easier to put the pulse back in on the up -- thus you will see a double hop in the vieo.
(QQ lead out sequence)
-- 1X basic in closed position spinning counter clockwise.
-- S/S following same direction as previous basic. Leader note, these two slows should end with the leader looking upstage right for a straight QQ lead out.
--QQS lead out down stage left. Follower reaches limit of extension on end of S
--SQQ leader brings follower straight back in on second slow and QQ. Leader lets follower pass under left hand and catches follower energy and turns it into a clockwise spin.
1X basic in a clockwise direction.
1X Long double basic (SSQQQQ) rhythm double outside turn. Be sure to finish the SS facing downstage right and lead the double turn in place to make it easier for the follower to execute the turn.
Final Sequence :
First 8 (guys) : Kick ball change, plant. (like four count scissor kick) Plant on four. Slap your right foot into your left bringing your left foot up for a high kick and move downstage left. Land the left foot on seven.
Second 8 (girls) : Kick Ball Change plant (pivot though to prep for the turn.) Change weight to right foot and spin clockwise. Land by on seven.
Third 8 (both) : Guys and girls do the same kick ball change plant as their sections, except they end hand to hand. Girls do the same turn on 4-7. guys do a similar clockwise turn ending on seven with weight on whatever foot is necessary to star the prep for the Fouth 8.
Fourth 8 ( shoulder pop or kinckerbocker entry back flip.)
And now Jam!
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.
Sorry for posting this on my own website, it was too long to add to the FB text area.
It's cool to know these debates happen over in the UK too. We chat about it here all the time. There are several things that come up when we debate it over here. Maybe I'll throw in some opinions into your debate and see what you guys think of them.
One of the reasons shag is so difficult is because there are so few people interested in moving beyond the limits of the few self help DVD's and maybe the 40 shag clips out there from the old days. This "base content" takes quite a while to master and nobody would argue with you if you said 'base content is plenty enough to be bad ass.' It IS bad ass -- no question! Still, some do go further, and some go even further than that. Perhaps it's insanity or obsession, but some of us really want to keep things moving as fast as our bodies and minds will let us.
If you combine all the "base content" moves in all the videos into one library, it's probably a total of 40 things leveraging maybe 15 techniques and half a dozen style variations. This obviously is not enough to create a living and breathing style. Those that truly dig in have one of three choices once they naturally reach the point where they've gone through all that base content. They must either break into an innovation state, they must accept they they have gone as far as they want to go, or they must move on to something else.
Johnny created a style he calls shag-boa and if you're into smoothing out your shag then he's definitely got some style you could try. If you're a double shagger and you're trying to be more technical, then Ryan has some poly techniques that can blow your mind. As for me, I spend countless hours each week at the studio attempting to hone connections with my partners.
The point is, everybody who really digs into this style for more than a few years is a significant asset to our scene.
On the other side of of the thought above, by the time somebody invests years worth of study into shag, I have no doubt they recreate something like the "Lady Be Good" clip right down to the posture and mistakes in about a week if they had to. I would guess many of us would consider that content fairly easy now days, which is why you probably won't see it redone unless somebody asks.
Another opinion that comes up when we're debating shag styles is the "youtube syndrome." Advanced shag is SUPER hard I think. Still, I think many now days learn shag by breaking down what we see on youtube. I do sometimes too. We all do, but learning that way is learning at an intermediate level at best because we're missing the details. Recently I posted something on my personal website called the 'flip basic.' As a move, it's conceptually easy to understand. If executed as a pattern, I supposed it's easy to do. But, practically I think it's insanely difficult to master. There are dozens of micro-connections that have to fire in sequence to make work. When all that training and connection flows together and muscle memory takes over, when the rhythms change, when everything is second nature.. That's when it's really bad ass. I don't think you can get that from youtube.
Wanted to blog a little about my Monday night Collegiate Shag class.
I've heard via studio staff over the past year on multiple occasions that newcomers were saying my shag classes were far too 'advanced' to keep up. This doesn't surprise me. Over the past year's worth of run on this DM shag class, the class has become progressively more advanced as the student base became stronger. Now days, it's fierce in those Monday night classes. So fierce that one of the more senior students just won her first competition. It was her first time shagging outside of NYC, first comp, and an easy first place. And I honestly believe she's not the only one who could have done that from the class.
That aside, I think most would agree that shag has a super steep learning curve. And of course, newcomers walking out of class quickly mixed with some hardcore dancers wanting to move to the next level is every instructor's dilemma. I've chosen for the past year to place more of an effort in working on on the advanced side of shag. I did so mostly because there simply didn't seem like there were enough newcomers flowing through to make teaching newcomers an option. And because I think that if nobody's really rocking the shag, there will be no newcomers. [check out this related article if you are interested.]
Well, there seem to be more and more newcomers coming in now. And up until recently I think this issue was really intimidating potential shaggers, especially in my class.
I thought a lot about the dilemma and came up with a different formula that seems to be working, at least for shag, and at least for right now. Rather than splitting the class into two classes, we've changed the structure of the class to be more all levels simply by changing the way content was delivered and then asking students to practice differently. And, members from the 212 shag masters troupe are there to pair off and give individual coaching if a newer student doesn't quite feel comfortable trying content. When paired off, maybe the pair works on a similar move/connection, or even just principles. The point is, it's much better designed for solid learning for newcomers and advanced dancers by leveraging the different skill levels in a different way.
The results have been pretty awesome thus far, at least I think so. Newer people are sticking around and picking everything up quickly because of direct and applicable coaching, and they get to try out all the good stuff the senior students too. And when the more advanced students pair they're trying similar but more advanced versions of the same motion, connection, pattern, etc.
All that said, shag classes are starting up every month.
I'm hoping that we get some guys in, and of course, newcomers to shag encouraged to attend.
Also, thanks to the NYC shag community for making this class so successful. I think you cats are all rocking the shag like NYC hasn't seen since the 30's.
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.
Though I use the term 'Collegiate Shag' all over my website, in my classes, and on my workshop fliers to describe a dance executed in either six and eight counts, and though most call what I do Collegiate Shag, I really do very little collegiate shag, at least as it has been defined pre 1990.
I specifically use the term 'Collegiate' because I want people to find me on search engines, because I really don't want to confuse people with the style of dance that I do, and because I don't really want to say that anybody else's definition is all messed up. But if you ever talk to me in person, I surely do not call myself a "Collegiate Shag" dancer. I and most others that I know will simply call myself a shagger.
Collegiate Shag is a term that became popular by all of us in the 90's to describe our dance and to differentiate it from other forms of shag that were more popular, like say modern Carolina Shag. In fact, Collegiate Shag was mentioned only once that I am aware of, and only in writing. It was used to describe triple steps in the place of quick quicks in shag. It's funny. On all the Arthur Murray teaches collegiate shag clips out there, he never once uses the word 'Collegiate' to describe it.
I do do this rhythm, it often reminds me of balboa with triple steps, except it's pretty easy to make it look more shaggy. In double rhythm, it tends to look a lot like east coast swing too, so only practice it in single rhythm shag. And also, when I do it at speeds of greater than 180, it always looks muddled. I think of it more as a slow shag rhythm. It's fun, I just don't do it or teach it often.
Oh, and "Carolina" shag also has the same problem. Back in the 30's and 40's it was defined multiple times to be a subset of the shag we know as "collegiate."
This probably doesn't matter to anybody but me considering you can "google" up something, or you can buy "bling" for your gal.
-- see you shagmasters on the floor.!
As I move further into my study of shag, I find myself being more and more attracted to the earlier forms of of the dance, before the Arthur Murray clip, before the judges, before the competitions. Times were very different back then. There were tommy guns, gangs, depression, blacks forced into the back room, massive wars, major industrial revolutions going on all over the place, post Victorian era mindsets.. I can't even begin to imagine what it was like.
But there were groups who bonded together, and dancers were definitely one of them.
I like to think dance at that time, and specifically shag, was about sharing time with your partner, not swapping between everybody wearing track pants at a club. I like to think it was just a time when people were doing anything they could to do to experience a strong connection with another human.
I find myself influenced heavily by this concept, and my shag is heading in that direction with me. My exercises, directions seem to be more and more about connecting with my partner fully, down to the smallest millimeter of weight shift either laterally or forward to back. To me, if you aren't connected, then it just doesn't feel right. Sure, I love throwing tricks, but that's my personality, and it's really not a part of shag. It's just my thing, what I bring to the style.
Some say that this concept of 'inward' dancing was at the core of LA style in the late 30's. One thing I can say for certain is this looks almost nothing like the shag we know today.
Let me close this post by showing a video of what I believe may be the most connected set of dancers I've ever seen in any TV clip. They aren't actors. They aren't dancing to a metronome. They're just a bunch of warmed up partnerships tearing it up to a live band. Style doesn't matter, their form is very specific to each couple, and it's all just different. To me, it seems like it's all about just bei
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
Good day all.
Just a quick note that I'm coming out of the woodwork to teach Collegiate Shag at New York City's own Dance Manhattan. Classes will be on Monday nights at 7.
Hope to see you there.
Wikipedia denotes the kip swing dance aerial as a synonym to the lamp post / an around the back.
Though this may have been correct at one time, I believe this is no longer true. I also believe this hasn't been so for a at least a decade. The kip in most communities refers to a classification of an aerial where the follower rotates completely around the right arm of the leader landing on the right side of the leader.
To differentiate the kip from the lamp post, the lamp post sends the follower in front and possibly to the right of the leader, but rarely to the left. The 'modern' kip is also commonly ended in a close position, while the lamp post is generally a flying aerial where the follower lands very much away from the leader.
Of course this could be on left side if you're doing a backwards kip, just switch left/right shoulder through this post and all the principles are the same.
The 'kip' aerial used to be just one full revolution of the follower, with the follower standing at a 90 degree angle from the leader, rotating completely around the shoulder, and landing in closed position with a tap to the ground of the right foot. Later, in the late 90's, another more difficult version became popular, the kip to the side, in which the girl did a revolution and a half, ending up on the leader's back.
Now days, because the kip to the side has become such a cornerstone aerial of performances due to it's easy ability to time to music, the term kip now is used almost interchangeably with what we used to know as the kip to the side. Rarely do I even see people doing the kip anymore without the to the side ending.
For some history, the kip inherits much fame from Lance Shermoen, who more than 20 years ago did a kip with 17 revolutions. He has always referred to that aerial as the shoulder. Since then, there have been few people go beyond the single kip or the kip to the side, perhaps only a couple of dozen couples, myself included.
Most now days who want to advance in their ability to do the kip just stick to getting a second clean and full revolution of the follower, and we call that the double -- short for the double kip. I also believe that due to the difficulty of the second rotation and the skill required to get to that second revolution, the ending of the foot tap or the double kip to the side is pretty much irrelevant. If you get that far, the ending is more related to what you are trying to put to music.
If you want a class on the kip on video, check with Paulette Brockington for the kip class I taught at ALHC last year.
And humbly, the kip is a difficult aerial. If you're getting ready to start working with it, check out this link I wrote about strength training.
For more info, please email me directly.
Aerials require training, and the process of aerials training can be extremely dangerous. In my opinion, you can mitigate some danger by training correctly, but danger never goes away. I believe the best thing you can do to mitigate danger is have people experienced in dealing with the dangers head on, thus, experienced spotters. In my opinion, the spotter is the most important person in the room when you're practicing a a new aerial, especially if it's difficult, and even more so if the people doing the aerial are beginners to that aerial.
Spotting always turns out to be an unspoken hero kind of things. The people actually doing the aerial are going home with the crazy stories. The spotter goes home with most of the bruises, and of course the satisfaction that nobody got hurt.
That being said, I thought I'd make a few comments on the topic of swing dance aerial spotting.
I've been teaching aerials for quite some time now, more than a decade. Some would say I've been hardcore with aerials since day one, and I suppose they're right. I've always loved and still do love throwing chicks.
My first negative experience came at a Brian Setzer show in SF in the mid 90's. It was just awful and I'll never forget it. The guy threw a girl simple back to back roll but the connection was upside down. The upside connection only allows one exit, and as if on queue, she just pile drived into the floor, head first from about four feet with no hands to break her fall. As an ex military guy, I've seen quite a few serious injuries and even some fatalities. This was right up there with the worst crashes I've ever seen and I'm quite sure she broke something major in her neck.
What made the whole thing worse though was that I saw it happen from start to finish and I knew right when I saw those hands go the wrong way that it was going south quickly. I remember trying to make it across the room as fast as I could, but it was just way too late and she crashed. I was nowhere close enough to catch her.
She was rushed to the hospital 911 style and I was devastated for months. I never saw her before that day, and never saw her again. She young, somebody's daughter, probably just out watching a great show with some of her high school friends. Then all the sudden, because of one bad aerial, there was one family with a serious problem and a little girl most likely struggling to stay alive.
I remember it in slow motion even though it was more than a decade ago. I think about it every time I walk into an aerials class and prepare to teach. It's my reminder of how fast things can happen, how dire the consequences can be, and how fast spotting needs to be.
Now days, I invest heavily on spotters in aerials classes and I've seen it pay off time and and time again. The spotters I bring I trust fully to make the big catches. These people know the importance of safety, and they know beyond a shadow of a doubt they will have the most important and most thankless job in the room. Depending on content and class size, I may bring anywhere from three to a dozen spotters, all with the same skill set.
For each of these spotters, I usually train them by doing the aerial incorrectly and giving them the experience and opportunity to make the catch. Yes, this means I purposely slam myself into the ground, knock people around, execute totally off axis, and basically try to kill myself best I can so I know the spotter knows how to protect the situation. I am responsible to the best of my ability to assure safety in my aerials classes, and this is the only way that I've found that seems to work. It makes sense right? You really don't want your spotter learning on the job.
The one thing I will say about spotters is that it's probably a hundred times harder and faster than actually doing the aerial and it really doesn't matter what aerial you are talking about. The fluff your dance resume just doesn't matter, at least not to me. You have to be quick, decisive/committed, willing to take risk, more alert than somebody on amphetamines, and tough as nails. Why? Because a good spotter will always take the hit instead of letting the aerialists get hurt. And an aerial is only about a couple of seconds long. A good spotter has to think almost in increments of 1/5th of a second intervals and stepping that fast feels about like going from zero to 50 miles an hour while still keeping all your wits, intelligence, and experience at your immediate fingertips. It's definitely not for everybody.
One really close call from several years comes to mind about it not being just for everybody. I was at a practice session where I was actually doing aerials with my own spotter. Across the room there was this guy spotter working with another couple. He was in incredible shape and all, and I know he was quick, but on this one occasion something happened right in front of him and he just let it happen. Regardless of the reason, he simply couldn't react fast enough. There was no major injury thank God. I saw it from across the room, like before. Sure, I was working with some world class athletes who could all take a good hit, but my hear almost dropped clean out of my body just the same.
I remember talking to him afterward. I said something like 'dude, do you know how @%$#^$^& serious spotting is? Do you not realize that that girl could have died, and you were standing right next to her?' Just imagine what was going through his mind for the next month after that. Just imagine if you 'claimed' you were a good spotter and let the same thing happen? Again, it's definitely not for everybody.
As a spotter myself, I've broken my finger snatching girls out of the air, I've been kicked in every major part of my body, once almost being knocked clean out (but I did make the catch!), and I can't even tell you how hard I've been kicked in the nuts just trying to make sure somebody didn't hit the floor. I suppose none of that matters though. What really matters is that several people I've worked with either as a partner or a spotter feel comfortable working with me again. And reputation is everything when you're talking about aerials.
Like I opened this post, most just go home to tell the tale. They don't even notice what spotters do and how truly elite they are. They just end up safe and happy. I guess that's the way it has to be.
Keep it safe people. And please remember that spotters are not magically created from thin air. They spend a lot of time perfecting their craft with a lot of very skilled coaches.
The back flip is one of the easiest swing dance aerials one can learn. There are many different names such as walk in and knickerbocker, but they all operate on the same principles. Learn the principles before you try it.
Principle one : Axis is everything!
Regardless of the entry (one footed or two), platform use (hand platform, shoulder protect platform, free flying tuck), or any other factors, somebody is executing a back flip, probably a back tuck. And back flips, at least the standard ones, are flipping around a single axis, the flier's shoulders. That needs to be level (parallel to the ground) and stay level throughout the flip.
Just to make the math easy, let's say a flier's shoulder is exactly five feet from the ground. And say the flier squats down exactly six inches when doing the flip. The rotational axis would be just about 4 feet six inches high, or, basically the entire flier's body less the head, goes completely around the 4'6'' axis.
It is mostly in hands of the leader to protect this axis. As the flier squats down, the leader then locks the axis in place using one of many possible platforms or connections. Depending on the strength of the individuals, some type of force is executed, and the rest of the flier's body goes around the axis as the leader protects it.
If you're watching it from the side, and if you imagined the flier without a head, you could then imagine almost being able to put a broom stick at about three inches behind the leader's arm at 4'6'' in height, and the flier would flip over it. (becasue the flier has a head though, the broom stick would get in the way, so I don't suggest that.!)
Principle Two : If you want height raise the axis while in flight.
I do this demo all the time and it's very effective. Using a simple knickerbocker grip (left hand across the shoulders of the flier acting as the axis protection arm, and right hand lower back or coccyx level depending on the skill and strength of the flier) I start a simple back flip. Right after take off, I simply take my left hand and pick up the flier's axis anywhere between 2 to 12 inches.
Be really careful here. Three inches of lift translates to about another foot of falling for the flier, at least it does for me. Stronger leads who master the technique can really get a lot of lift. It tends to freak out the flier, who then has to react to at least the amount of lift plus any extra upward inertia. (she goes higher, which means she has to further to fall. It's scary.)
Principle Three: Fliers protect your axis at all costs.
Back flips are flubbed all the time when fliers freak out. It makes sense. On one side there's a solid platform leader, and on the other side there's thin air. Anybody in their right mind is going to think 'grab something or else' but that's the worst thing a flier do. Keep your left hand along your axis. Extend your axis, point your arm and hand straight out parallel to the ground if you have to.
I like to teach holding a tray with your left hand, like a waiter does, palm up. I say imagine all the way through the flip that you have to hold a tray. And I suggest extending the tray a good bit away from you, just like the waiters do. If a flier maintains that 'parallel to the horizon' tray holding thing through the entire flip, you can almost bet the axis will be more level than if the flier does something crazy with her hands.
Also, there are several back flips where the flier is tightly connected using her right arm. That one single connection can totally protect at least the height of the axis on one side. I show that trick all the time in my classes.
Principle Four: Spotting is everything when a new flier is getting the hang of it.
Back flips are some of the easiest and safest things you can possibly learn if you have a trained spotter. Seriously, there is literally nothing that can go wrong if your spotter knows how to spot a back flip, regardless of entry. And, spotting all back flips is quite simple.
It doesn't make any sense not to do your first few back flips with a spotter there. The consequences can be fairly dire if a new flier and leader can't work it out, so for heaven's sake get a spotter.
On the other side of safety though is the flier's mental stability. Trust me, she's going to feel MUCH more comfortable with a spotter until she's gone over about a dozen times. Eventually spotting will turn from active, to passive, to none. It happens naturally though, don't push it. The last thing you want to do is 'challenge' a flier's mentally to do something she doesn't feel safe doing. Best bet, just spot until she tells you she doesn't need you.
Principle Five : Most back flips are simple and safe, but some are very dangerous.
Some back flips I could teach my 7 year old cousin in about 5 minutes. Not all are that way though. Some require a honed posting skills. Others require completely different connections and different body parts to provide lift. For heaven's sake don't try a new one or don't try to 'break in a new partner' without a spotter you trust. Well, I'd do better than that. I'd say 'don't try a new back flip without a spotter THAT I TRUST'.
I personally have never seen anybody injured via a back flip. I believe there are a two simple reasons for this.
Firstly, if I'm leading or following the flip, I know when to get a spotter. And on top of that, the spotters I personally work with have years of training and have proven to me time and time again that if they are next to me when I am doing something difficult, there will be no injury.
And secondly if it's me on the spotter side, I know exactly how to keep people safe, just like the spotters I mentioned above.
What I will say is on many occasions, as a spotter, and on several of the 'self spotting' back flips (those that can be effectively spotted by the leader if the leader also knows how to spot the aerial) I've snatched girls out of thin air and out of situations where I doubt they would have even lived. Yeah, nobody's ended up in a neck brace, but I have absolutely no doubt that it could happen. It only takes about one half a second to get extremely dangerous, and consequences can be dire on the more advanced back flips. So again, for heaven's sake, be safe. Get a spotter until you know exactly what you are doing. I work with spotters all the time in my practice sessions. It doesn't mean I suck, it means my fliers will live. Safety first!!!!!
Save a bathtub falling from the sky, or maybe a bruised foot, there is NO EXCUSE for injury on a back flip.
The kip is a difficult swing dance aerial to get. Because you can only practice it maybe two or three dozen times before you have to call it a day, it tends to make people shy away from it and focus on something easier. I love it though, and I'd love to see the entire swing community be able to get it. That being said, I have some suggestions on how to train for it in the beginning. I'll break this into three subsections, main types of exercises that build primary muscle groups needed to execute the aerial, stabilizer exercises that build strength so you can adapt to the changing dynamics of the learning process, and suggestions on how to do the exercises to gain the desired result.
Main exercises :
Leg Presses or squats, bench, military press, push ups and inverted push ups.
Anything you can do to build strength in your torso.
For your stabilization exercises, just do them as normal to build strength. Tone doesn't really matter, strength does. You have to think about what's going to happen when you're needing to redirect that momentum. If she hits you at 10 degrees off, it's all your stabilizer muscles that redirect her onto the right track before explosive power can kick in. In the beginning, you'll hurt like you just got in a car wreck because you're working every stabilizer muscle in your body. I assure you that after you and your partner get some technique training under your belt, you'll need to use these less and less, and your power will come out.
For the main exercises, lift for explosive power, not for strength. What does that mean? Say you're on the leg press machine. Rather than doing slow reps of a lot of weight, stack as much weight as you can stand on there and try to push machine into the next room with each rep. Think "on and of" and at full speed. Follow through, and literally push it so fast and with so much of explosion that it leaves your feet. When I get on the squat machine, I literally try to put as much weight as I can onto my shoulders and attempt jump a foot in the air. That is exactly what the kip feels like when you're working with a new partner. Same goes for bench and military press.
As a general rule of thumb, if you can bench yourself and your partner's body weight, you'll get it quickly so beef up. If you bench 150% of your weight, you're going to have to rely a lot more on technique. If you can only bench your weight, it's all technique and it's going to take a good amount of time to get. So, strength training here really makes a difference. The more strength you have, the less you're going to need her to jump. And in the beginning, most girls have no idea how to use their legs to provide the upward thrust necessary to kip.
Main exercises :
Jumping high, the same exercises I listed out for the men above, and if you have the ability to, drop some weight in a healthy way (*** see explanation ***).
Crunches, russian body builders, flutter kicks, and anything you can possibly do to strengthen your abs.
In the learning phase, I think the single biggest thing you can do is working on jumping high. Leg presses, running, jumping rope, whatever you can do to build up your legs. If you can dunk a basketball, throw a triple lutz, or do a punch back, you'll get it pretty quickly.
Why? For just half a second, at the most critical time of the kip, all your weight is on one foot and you have to jump straight up in the air. If you can push your center (hips) all the way up on top of your partner's shoulders then gravity will take over and the kip will work as soon as you figure out how to aim your jump. If you have this much vertical leap off of one foot, you can kip yourself.
Think about what that means though, to get your hips up to your partner's shoulders. When training, forget about what your feet are doing, just think about your hips. You know you've got some jump in you if you can stand straight in front of a wall, mark where your belt buckle is, jump, and get your belt buckle two or three feet higher than your initial mark. That's the kind of lift that'll make it easier for you to do this aerial.
After that, there's all sorts of techniques you can do with your platforms that'll help you control it, so don't forget about working your shoulders and abs.
*** The comment about dropping weight in the beginning should be explained. After you have experience with many of the techniques of the kip, weight is almost negligible compared your ability to jump and use technique. In the beginning though, your weight will be a liability no matter how much or little you weigh.
There are two reasons for this comment and the first relates to how much you can jump. Think about your leader, if you only have one foot of vertical leap like more than 90% of the people that take my kip classes, well, just know you'd really need about three times that. Your leader is basically going to be doing about 2/3'rds of the kip using his own shoulders and legs. It's simple physics. The lighter you are, the easier it's going to be for him to throw you.
The other reason for that comment is geared toward female athletes, maybe lifelong runners, yoga teachers, etc. It has to do with the misuse of power. Say you're a 120 pound solid muscle lady that can jump four feet in the air. You may be a dream aerialist of tomorrow, but you're going to hurt more than you know on day one. The first time you really hit a strong power jump and go off axis or off connection even just a little bit, well, let's just say even the toughest of men can't handle the kind of pain this aerial can cause if it's done wrong. It's sort of like swinging a rocket on a rope. Your kinetic energy goes in that one direction until that direction is changed, and that of course means the leader is going to have to either absorb that energy or compensate for it with stabilizer muscles. Again, it's all simple physics. Your weight used in the wrong directions can easily cause a leader to have to ice his arm or shoulder.
Good luck all.
I keep thinking about how I met my wife swing dancing.About how all my closest friends are swing dancers. About how both my grandmother and my mother were swing dancers. About how I just put up a photo album of my four year old with about 50 other swing dancers. About how I'm quite sure at least 1/5th of the baby boom generation back from WWII met swing dancing. About how I was sitting next to Tony and Auralie from Boston, and they too met swing dancing. About the countless hours I've spent studying Frankie's aerials footage frame by frame.
Man, the the list goes on and on..
Who would have ever thought one man could have made such an impact on so many people.
This may be our dance now, but it doesn't feel the same. It was a rough day for me today, perhaps it was just as rough for us all, but, I do feel blessed to have been able to attend and pay my respects to the man I believe is one of the most American of all Americans. Though the eulogy said the typical stuff about celebration of life and moving on, I sure feel like there's a huge hole that is not going to / can never be filled. He was just a normal guy. He wasn't even trying to be a legend, he wasn't trying to be the leader. I suppose that's what makes it all the more difficult for me personally.
Carol and I have decided to put up a picture in our new hallway with his picture, and inside the frame we're going to put the his granddaughter gave me today and the red white and blue ribbon they gave Carol. He will always be a part of my own family history.
My four year old son told me today he was up in heaven dancing with God now.
I have this passion for a rare form of swing dancing called Collegiate Shag. I sincerely think I may be one of the few who truly appreciate this dance right down to my core. What's it like to have such a passion? Well, it's wonderful and rough at the same time.
It's wonderful that there are a select few others out there that share my passion. We sort of clump together here in the New York City scene, birds of feather and all that. I've spent many hours in the studio with them just practicing, working on the craft, practicing like there's no tomorrow, sacrificing, and just generally giving it everything I have. It's been the most rewarding journey into swing dancing I think I've ever taken and I'm grateful to have the ability to do it. I am also greatful to have the support of my friends and family on this passion, my wife who understands I have to do it, my partners Shannon and Jen who have tried to pick up my style, and the several students who've repeatedly come to the classes I've taught at Dance Manhattan and around the city.
It's rough because the American swing dance environment itself is changing. To me, shag tends to be easier to do to music that has more of a constant downbeat, like say to jump blues or rock and role style swing music of the late 40's and early 50's, or perhaps the modern versions of similar beats like those from Big Six, even a good old fashioned swing tune with a good base line like many from Basie, Benny Goodman, or Bill Elliot. All around me though, I'm seeing socially danced music infusing more and more into the categories of charleston-like or groovy. At least to me, regardless of speed, to me these two styles of music do not easily lend themselves to the collegiate style. When I hear charleston, I want to do charleston. And when I hear groovy, I want to use channel it with musical lindy hop. Forcing groovy shag to come out, at least to me, just doesn't work.
Where does that leave Shag? Like Balboa and Lindy Hop, maybe shag itself will change to fit the music too. Or, perhaps as people say, it'll all come back around. I hear it's making a huge impact in certain cities that aren't NYC, but we'll see about all that here in NYC. Heck, with all spots I'll be showing the style over the next year, perhaps that alone will create at least exploratory interest within our local community. I guess we'll see what we see.
Either way I've never been able to shake this passion so you can bet Collegiate Shag will be alive and well in the Fraser household.
Frankie, I can't even begin to say how sad it is to hear that you are not with us anymore. You're the founder of all swing dancing, the aerialists that I've studied the most, and just about the single biggest role model for two entire generations of swing dancers. (both in the 40's and in current.) And to top it all off, you're just a nice, normal and humble guy.
Rest in peace, and it's an honor to have met you, studied under your wing, and just to know you. Thank you for inspiring me.