Styles of the Collegiate Shag Basic

Posted on February 15, 2017 by PhD
Tags: dancing, swing dancing, swing, shag, collegiate shag

I’ve had a couple of questions from fellow dancers about collegiate shag footwork, in particular different variants, and the fact that my partner and I seem to teach different footwork at each class we do. I’d like to clarify some of it, as well as give some great historical references to early shag, so I thought I’d post a bit of text to go into some of the historical and practical reasons why we do this.

To start with the latter, the practical reasons, different footwork variations bring different “feels” to a given shag dance. For example, double-kicks encourage a much “punchier” feel to the dance (for example, see the first couple in this video 1), while swooping basics (the second lead in the same video) lend to a much “smoother” feel to the dance. Being able to express both is really helpful for being able to express a lot of musicality in shag. The different feels that both bring also helps with emphasising various technical aspects of the dance as well. Double-kicks (for example) are very difficult without proper body isolation (essential for shag), and swooping basics are hard if the dancer starts “teeter tottering” in the basic (which they shouldn’t be).

It’s because of those practical reasons that we teach a variety of basics - some to help correct mistakes in other bits of shag, and some because they can change the way the whole dance “feels”, and really add musicality and flair!

The other reason we teach various variations is very historical. Collegiate Shag was (arguably) far more popular than lindy at its height, which led to lots of regional variations, and lots of ways of doing the basic. To teach any one of these as “correct” would do a disservice to the history of the dance, and would, frankly, be incorrect. Video 2, for example, gives some great variations just from the east coast of the US (at about 3:10), while video 3 gives a great example of some styling from the west coast (as well as some cool vintage balboa!).

Getting to grips with different footwork patterns, and mixing and matching them is a really great way to improve your shag dancing by yourself. Just try a few of the ones in the videos in front of the mirror, and try to combine and alter them!

Hopefully what I’ve written has been helpful, and at least slightly interesting for all you dance nerds like me!

  1. Hot Rhythm Holiday 2017 Collegiate Shag Invitational

  2. Arthur Murray Shag - How To Shag (1937)

  3. Venice Beach Swing Dancers (Balboa) (September 1938)