Collegiate Shag: A Few Years Back and Now

Lets start this journey by taking a trip back in time,

(1999) Camp Hollywood Collegiate Shag division:

Interesting things to note:

  • A lot of choreography, some of it original & some of it from vintage clips.
  •  Emphasis on tricks/flash to get attention (The Camp Hollywood showmanship judging criteria may explain this).
  • Bal-swing being dispersed through some couples turns out in the center (4:15 Tip West & Holly are.
  • Even though there is a line up it almost seems like a jam circle format with the competitors being surrounded, something I don’t see that much these days besides some ULHS competitions.
  • Tempos were a lot faster, my BPM counter clocked in that last song around 320ish.
  • Bonus: Notice at 5:28 a certain drummer from a LA swing band that most of the United States can recognize out there.

(2000) San Francisco Jitterbugs Collegiate Shag Routine On The USS Hornet:

What I liked is they seemed to have a little of everything in this performance. An example of this is at 0:53 they go into a “fanny out” posture popularized by Ray Hirsch in some of his clips, but the interesting thing is while they are in it they don’t go wild and crazy like a lot of people do when they adopt this posture but instead keep it clean and controlled. At 1:52 they briefly go into single rhythm shag (quick, quick, slow) for breaks as well.

(2002) Sailor Mike and Holly Dumaux Social Dance at the Argyle Hotel

In this clip we have Sailor Mike and Holly who were both in the 1999 Camp Hollywood shag division at the beginning of this post. Unlike the other two settings of a competition and a performance we get to see what Shag looked like danced socially in the early 2000s. While for most of the clip they are both pretty clean technique wise, toward the end when the drummer starts having fun, Mike and Holly start to as well. This is unlike the competition or the performance where if people were “crazy/wild” it was a reference to some vintage clip or pre-choreographed.

(2003) Instructors Demo at Boogie and Swing in Toulouse, France

Marcus Koch und Bärbl Kaufer dance in an instructor demo where there is Collegiate Shag mixed in with Balboa & Lindy Hop. What stands out to me is Marcus and Bärbl are very performance oriented and their presentation of their movement seems to be a key factor here.

(2007) Shag Jam Instructors Demo

This clip is the instructor (and special guest) demo from Shag Jam 2007 in San Francisco.  Depth is the first word that comes to mind when I see this clip, because compared to a lot of the early 2000 clips it seems like it is less of trying to get from move to move but more building upon previous movements to make more of a statement. A perfect example is at 0:36 where Sailor Mike is doing a double rhythm basic but it slowly builds up larger each time.

(2008) Camp Hollywood Collegiate Shag Division

As annoying as the guy frequently yelling “This is a battle.” is, he has a point. The battle format at Camp Hollywood showed how individuality and style was starting to become more prevalent and the pressure of a battle brought some interesting things out into the open. There are some who were staunch traditionalists and would only stay in double shag rhythm and dance crystal clean basics, there was some who would use tricks and choreography from vintage clips, and there was some that would go in their own directions.

 (2008) Shag Jam Jack & Jill Finals:

At this particular year during Shag Jam the finals were conducted by having the finalists dance with the instructors. It was a fun mix of the old school & new school, interestingly enough a lot of the old school material worked just fine with newer dancers.  If you watch the first clip at 6:47 and this one at 1:37, you will see Minn Vo show that a trick still works fine 9 years later.

(2009) Happy Feet Monday’s at Joe’s Bar and Grill Amateur Collegiate Shag Finals

This is a smaller competition in Los Angeles, California. It’s interesting to see many of the dancers who would go on to be prevalent in future Camp Hollywood Shag divisions when they were a bit more green, also its rare to see a female lead in a Shag competition as well.

(2009) Camp Hollywood Collegiate Shag Division

This year at Camp Hollywood had competition from all over ranging from Germany to New York City. At 3:14 check out both of the couples battling coincidentally both pull tricks out of the Ray Hirsch book at the same time.

(2010) Shag Showcase at Rock That Swing Festival

At Rock That Swing Jeremy Otth and Laura Keat performed in Munich. I can confidentially say this is the most polished Collegiate Shag performance I have seen in all of my scouring of clips through the internet.

(2010) Camp Hollywood Shag Division All Skate

Oddly enough the reason why this is in here is Sailor Mike’s exit. Unfortunately the entrance where he was brought on the dance floor in a coffin is not on film, but this was probably the hands down craziest competition entrance and exit of all time and earned him and Tip West the coveted Golden Bugie award that year.

(2010) Hot Rhythm Holiday Collegiate Shag Finals

Besides Tony/Jamie & Joe/Tabitha, not too much flash or tricks was thrown in this competition compared to Camp Hollywood. Interestingly enough a lot of the competitors from Camp Hollywood are not present as well.

(2011) Camp Hollywood Shag Finals

Thing to note is the change from a battle format to spotlights for each couple.  Something I would like to point out as well is I noticed a lot toward the mid to late 2000s a shift toward better technique/improved musicality/complex movement but it seemed to be missing something. What that thing was I believe is the borderline manic energy some of the competitors had on their faces and in their movements at the 1999 Camp Hollywood finals. I think what Stephen and Fancy had going for them, was the fact that they had that in this particular competition in addition to good technique.

Overall

The interesting struggle I notice now in the Collegiate Shag community is how to expand our repertoire of movements without losing the aesthetic of the dance, whether that be borrowing from Balboa/Lindy Hop or other dances. In addition the idea of sticking with double rhythm which is a very traditionalist view or expanding to “multrhythms” (Note: Formerly listed as “poly-rhythms”, see Ryan M’s comment below for clarification).

What I’ve seen in the last 10 years through my little clip scouring adventure is the assimilation and integration of vintage material and adding an individual touch to it. In the mid 2000’s I noticed people not just exactly copying Ray Hirsch’s material but slightly modifying it or creating their own entrances/exits out of it.  I’ve also seen a considerable increase among the top level dancers of their ability to remain smooth regardless of tempos are complexity of movements.

Even though I spent a decent amount of time on this, I still feel it is a rushed assessment.  Do any of you guys have thoughts on how the Shag community has evolved or is evolving?

Shag Division At ILHC 2012: A Call To Action

I wanted to share with you guys a note David Lee from Washington D.C. wrote in “The Collegiate Shag Community” facebook group.

Petition for Shag Contest at ILHC: I’m sure all of us would love to see a shag contest at a high profile event such as ILHC. As it is fast approaching, now is a great time to petition for a shag contest for next year. I spoke with one of the organizers about it and running a contest presents challenges of paying for judges and prize awards. Thus, to run a successful contest, ILHC would need about 20 couples.

1) So, can you let me know in the comments whether you would be willing to come to ILHC and compete if there were a shag division? Obviously 20 couples is a lot more than there were at Camp Hollywood this year. So if you are at all inclined, please comment as it will be a gauge to let the organizers know how many people they could expect.

2) If you are interested, it would be helpful to let the organizers personally know. You can email them at ILHCinfo@ilhc.com. Please let them know both a) whether you would attend ILHC specifically if there were a shag division and b) whether you would compete.

3) Finally sponsors would help defray the cost of the contest, so please let me or them know whether you would be willing to sponsor as a scene or event organizer.

Requirements for A Competition

ILHC says they need 20 couples to run a successful competition. If you take a look at the ILHC registration page, you will see to register for any of the couple contests (Balboa/Lindy) it is a $50 dollar fee per couple. So in total they need to garner a minimum of $1000 dollars to make this contest a reality.

However it may not just be a money issue, an important part of having a contest for any event is making it exciting enough to warrant taking time away from the social dance floor. ILHC has a unique crowd of attendees in comparison to most events. In result the Shag division would have to be a fairly full in terms of registration and contain high caliber dancers for them to take the additional time and resources to make this happen.

What You Can Do To

If you have an interest in Shag there are several ways you can help out.

1.  Say You Are Willing to Compete

The first and most obvious one is say you are willing to compete. People I have talked to about dancing Shag competitively in respect to this past Camp Hollywood Shag Division frequently gave me the excuse of,  “There is no way I could even compare to the other people in the division”.

This past July I competed at the Camp Hollywood Shag division anyways. Was I ready or even close to the caliber of the other leads? Not even by a long-shot. While there were side benefits of giving me something to work towards, what mattered to me though was I  liked this dance and they needed people for the division.  Supporting the Shag community was a more important priority to me then any apprehensions I had about looking like garbage in comparison to Sailor Mike about the competition.

I think a lot of people get into the mentality of “competing against” people, which is unfortunate. One of the best pieces of advice I got in terms of competition was from an story David Frutos was telling the story about the first time he was in a competition with Ryan Francois. He said something to Ryan the effect about being apprehensive of competing against Ryan and his partner. Ryan corrected him after saying, “You are competing with us, not against us”. It is a small difference but if you come out on the competition with the latter attitude, competitions suddenly become more relaxed enjoyable experiences and seem less intimidating.

Don’t feel like you have to be the best Shag dancer ever to compete in this division. There is a year to prepare, one just has to be motivated to practice.

2. Email ILHCinfo@ilhc.com Explaining Why You Want A Shag Division

Part of making this happen is showing the organizers of ILHC there is an actual significant interest having this division exist. While any interest is good, if you email them list in particular; if you have attended in the past, if you are registered for this year, and if you have a history as a competitor at the event.

3. Spread The News of This to Other Shag Dancers

There is a bunch of us Shag dancers out there, the problem is we are all spread out. While there are a few motivated individuals out there who work hard to advocate the dance, this effort to create a Shag division will only come to fruition if we work together instead of staying fragmented. If you know any other people who are regular Shag dancers or even show a slight interest in the dance, make them aware of this.

4. Keep Dancing Shag and Work To Improve Your Own Dancing

To be candid one of the biggest frustrations I have had to deal with taking up this dance is the criticism I received towards it, sometimes even by amazing dancers who I respect.  In some cases I have even heard it referred to as a “novelty dance” or “full of patterns, mostly choreographed”.

Spending my time to argue against their established opinions is probably a waste of my time. Instead I focus more on improving my own dancing and aim to prove them wrong one day through example. In my humble opinion, how we can improve as a dance community and earn more respect is by setting a standard of excellence for ourselves and not settling for mediocrity.

About two years ago I stumbled upon Shag dancing at Camp Hollywood 2008 during their competition and was inspired to take it up after. Luckily a few months later two dancers (Amantha & Alan) were kind enough to give me a free lesson and got me started down the path of learning.

The point I want to make from that story is people get inspired to respect and take up our dance by seeing amazing dancers out there. It doesn’t matter if that forum is competitions, jam circles, or even the social floor. It is not just the reason for why one should continuously work to improve their own dancing, but why it would be a stride forward for the Shag community to be featured at ILHC. It would expose our dance at the international level to the swing dance community and give us a chance to show them what we can do.

Collegiate Shag: Getting “Behind” A Misconception

In my travels across the United States one of the interesting misconceptions I have run into when chatting people about Collegiate Shag is that the proper posture is with ones’ butt or “fanny” out. The baffling thing to myself is I know the majority of people who teach Collegiate Shag in the United States and as far as I know, none of these individuals say this in their lessons.

Flier from a Penn State Scrapbook in the 1920's

Source of “Fanny Out” Opinion

It’s reasonable to see where their opinion may have stemmed from, this stylistic choice is featured in a few vintage clips. The two clips that stick out the most to me is here at the 1:35 mark in the 1943 clip from “The Powers Girl” and here at the 1:02  mark in this clip from the 1940 clip from “Mad Youth”.

In addition Ray Hirsch, a legendary shag dancer even mentions in an interview by CollegiateShag.com [1], “Then Shag came along. It had its own little interpretation. You put your fanny out […]” when talking about the dance. Even Kenny Nelson and Tiffany Wine in the Camp Hollywood 2009 Shag finals had that style choice as part of their double rhythm basic [2].

Why a Misconception?

My main counterpoint is this, there are clips (vintage and modern) that feature dancers who do not have their butt or “fanny” out when they dance Collegiate Shag. Example of one vintage clip without this styling is the Arthur Murry instructional video.

I view sticking ones “fanny” out as a valid style choice within the dance, however not as something that is seen as mandatory when attempting to stay within the aesthetic of it.

However I consider myself far from an authority on this subject. If anyone with more experience would like to chime in, your opinion or any information you have on the matter would be appreciated.

References:

1. CollegiateShag.com interview with Ray Hirsch, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfMXJTu8958
2. Camp Hollywood 2009 Collegiate Shag Finals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPTmqw_92ZE

DJing for A Collegiate Shag Event

So this past weekend the Penn State Swing dance club threw a unique event, Shagception a full two days of Collegiate Shag workshops taught by David and Chelsea Lee from Washington D.C.

It was a fun weekend which I intend to write a more in depth post about later, but for now I wanted to write about a problem I seriously had to deal with with preparing for this event. How do I DJ for a Collegiate Shag event?

Preconceived Notions

Before I started contacting people my only preconceived notion for what to DJ for a Collegiate Shag event was from Camp Hollywood Shag division competitions I witnessed personally. Namely 2009 where they played Everybody Loves My Baby by Glen Miller and 2010 where they played Oh Lady Be Good! by Artie Shaw. In addition to that I had the All The Cats Join In, Disney short featuring music by Benny Goodman [1] and the song Mr. Ghost Goes to Town from the classic Arthur Murry Shag clip.

Yehoodi Lends a Hand

First thing I did was as usual use the search function in Yehoodi which come up with the topic: “Balboa-Collegiate Shag Music for Practice?“. One useful quote from the topic was,

You need a narrower range of tempos for shag. For shag, on the low end 180 and up. There are some songs that I particularly associate with shag. “All the Cats Join In” Benny Gooodman, “Lady Be Good” Artie Shaw. These are good ones to practice to because they aren’t too fast. As you get more comfortable try practicing to a version of Bugle Call Rag which is on the higher side of the tempo range. – Lamar

So from this I gleaned that for songs that are danceable for Collegiate Shag its probably more comfortable to go 180 BPM. As I have learned personally through trial and error, it is awkward to try to dance Collegiate Shag to slower tempos. Another useful quote was,

I feel shag in songs that have a strong “bounce” rhythm, although you shouldn’t have a huge bounce in your shag basic. – Capt Morgan

I’ve heard this described by different dancers as a “chug” rhythm, a solid four beat or in this case a strong “bounce” rhythm.  For me what this meant was stay away from small group combos and songs that have long periods of dragging out or solos with the rest of the band not coming back in.

SwingDJs.com Helps Out As Well

Another useful resource was a thread titled “Collegiate Shag Please?” on swingdjs.com. One thing I noticed is Artie Shaw’s music is mentioned several times in the thread with recommendations such as “The Carioca”, “The Man From Mars”, “Diga Diga Doo”, “Back Bay Shuffle”, “Free Wheeling”, and “Bird Calls”. What I inferred from this is Shaw tunes are considered a safe bet and will get people out on the floor for Collegiate Shag, similar to how Lavender Coffin will put life back into a dead room at Lindy events (in spite of it being overplayed at times).

An interesting comment from Capt Morgan was,

Collegiate Shag is a dance from the 30’s, and is inherently connected to the music of this era (more so than Lindy Hop). Dancing to Neo-Swing, or Rockabilly, or Bebop just doesn’t fit.

Lorenzo, a Los Angeles swing band musician notes,

I picked some of the songs listed below for the preliminaries of a Collegiate Shag contest, after a discussion with Sailor Mike Mizgalski (two time NJC Shag Champion). The general guideline to pick a good Shag is to look for a bouncy feeling.

Cheers,
Lorenzo

Steamboat Bill, Mora’s Modern Rhythmists (1996) – 200 bpm
Darktown Strutter’s Ball, Sidney Bechet (1945) – 220 bpm
Too Wet To Plow, Cliff Bruner (1944) – 230 bpm
You Just Take Her, Bob Wills (Tiffany Transcriptions 1947) – 210 bpm

Again I notice the pattern of staying above the 180 BPM mark and a consistent rhythm through out most or all of the songs listed.

With a Little Help From my Friends

Unfortunately I did not save the exact transcriptions of the advice (with the exception of Morgan), but Augie Freeman, Morgan Day, and David Lee all helped to provide insightful advice that I shaped my playlist around.

Jonathan Stout as usual laying down a solid rhythm.

Something that Augie mentioned that was particularly useful was not to keep the tempos blazingly fast the whole night. Which I did try to keep that piece of advice in mind for my playlist.

Morgan wrote,

The most important thing is to have a really strong “chug” on every single beat.  Personally I stick with music by Jonathan Stout.  A good range is 170 – 200 bpm for lessons.  If you teach too slow, people won’t get the feeling of shag.

Again the reinforcement of two concepts covered previously in Yehoodi and swingDJs.com.

Difficulty of the Crowd

One big issue I had was I had three very different type of attendees to please for this event:

  1. Ridiclously good Collegiate Shag dancers who were all in this competition.
  2. Newbie Collegiate Shag dancers who in many cases had 1-4 hours of instruction that day.
  3. Random dancers who showed up to the dance who have no knowledge of Collegiate Shag.

So my compromise was play tunes with a really solid “chug” rhythm but try to hug around the 180 BPM range. I threw a few faster ones in the for the advanced dancers like Rigamarole by Mora’s Modern Rhythmists and Digga Digga Doo by Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five.  I also threw in Eddie Lang’s Dinah for those who may have been intimidated by the consistent 180+ range at I stayed at for my set. In addition I included Django Reinhart’s I’se A Muggin because of its laid back feel and the fact I knew there were a few Balboa dancers in the room.

Overall

While in retrospect I would have tweaked a few things with my set, I think it went over fairly well. Two songs that worked fairly well I think that I haven’t seen recommended for Collegiate Shag in the past was Caprice XXIV Paganini and King Porter Stomp, both by Benny Goodman.

If you have DJ’ed for a Collegiate Shag event or have opinions on the matter as a Collegiate Shag dancer I would love to hear them, the more resources we have on the topic the better.

Footnote:

[1] If you DJ All the Cats Join In, unless if you have a ton of newbies my personal opinion is stick with the non Disney-version. The reason why is the Disney sound effects cover up a very beautiful piano solo.

But All The Cats Like To Shag

Collegiate Shag is a dance that I am more than happy to dance.  However the issue I have when I am living in the East Coast, is finding someone to dance it with. [1]

Often I will find people all over the East Coast that say the line, “Well it looks fun and I would love to learn Shag, but I have no one to teach it in my area”. Well with the list of learning resources below, you are out of excuses!

Collegiate Shag Learning Videos

Arthur Murray

  • This 1937 clip was the video I used when I attempted to teach myself shag in Pennsylvania. Although not the clearest video, it does give you the basic double shag rhythm and a few technical pointers.

Johnny Lee and Rebecca Williams

  • These three videos feature Johnny Lee and Rebecca Williams from The 9:20 Special down in San Francisco. What I like is how the videos are progressive. This way you can work on basics and once you get more comfortable with them try more difficult material.

David & Chelsea Lee

  • These two videos feature David & Chelsea Lee from the Jam Cellar down in Washington D.C. The first video is particularly helpful for users for two reasons. First because it zooms in on the feet. [2] Lastly it also covers what to do if you mess up, which is frequent if you are new to the dance.

Ryan Martin and Tracy Owen

  • These last two videos feature Ryan Martin and Tracy Owen from Austin, Texas.  They are particularly useful because they cover technique, which is invaluable. [3]

So, if you’ve reached the end of this post. Stop reading, grab a friend and learn some Collegiate Shag!

Footnotes:

[1] For the most part I usually have to drive 3-4 hours (Philly/Washington D.C./New York) to find other Shag dancers out of my local scene.

[2] My biggest pet peeve for online videos are the ones that are teaching footwork variations and they are fully zoomed out.

[3] I’m actually somewhat jealous these last two videos were not online when I started learning Collegiate Shag. They would have saved me a lot of headaches and not looking like a flailing monkey in Virginia.