From former Lindy Hop historian Terry Monaghan’s obituary on Leonard Reed,
The dancer, comedian, songwriter and producer Leonard Reed, who has died aged 97, was one of the choreographers of the “Shim Sham” the anthem of jazz dance. When Nat “King” Cole challenged Mel Tormé to a dance contest on his 1950s TV show, inevitably they danced the Shim Sham. As Norma Miller, the Lindy Hopper remarked: “you’re not a jazz dancer if you don’t know the Shim Sham.”
While many of us swing dancers often do a line dance version of this routine, the original version is often attributed to Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant. Wikipedia has this written on the subject,
The Shim Sham routine created by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant in 1927 uses four popular steps of the period: the Shim Sham, the Pushbeat and Crossover, the Tackie Annie or Tack Annie, and the Half Break. Originally called “Goofus” and done as a comedic farm dance to the song “Turkey in the Straw,” the dance was performed by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant around the South while they were touring with the Whitman Sisters Troupe. The dance was then taken to the Shim Sham Club in New York, where the farm theme was dropped and chorus girls were added to the dance. The chorus girls further varied the dance by shaking their shoulders while doing the first step, and soon the dance became known as the Shim Sham Shimmy.
One of Reed’s last notable performances was at the Orpheum Theatre (June 2, 1999) with quite the interesting cast of characters; Erik Robison and Sylvia Skylar famed 90’s LA Dancers which Robert White goes into a bit of detail about in this article and that Jerry Almonte touches in Part 2 of his Artistry in Rhythm series as well, Rusty Frank a noteable dance historian and preservationist in swing dance and tap, Maxwell De’Mille a longstanding personality in the L.A. Art Deco Society and swing dance community. Hilary Alexander; a judge at ILHC for several years, vocalist featured in Jonathan Stout and His Campus 5, and most known for organizing Camp Hollywood one of the longest running swing dance events, Chester Witmore a famed; stuntman, choreographer, tap dancer, and the list goes on, Chandler Smith a former old school L.A. swing dancer, and last but not least Leonard Reed himself.
This second clip, a demo reel for the (now defunct) Hollywood Jitterbugs features many dancers from the first clip in the Shim Sham. Also it provides a look back in time to certain dancers in the earlier stages of their dancing, who are now movers and shakers of our scene.
The reason I picked this particular performance of the Shim Sham is it is an interesting snapshot of time in the history of Lindy Hop. Some of the people from that clip who used to be internationally renown in the Lindy Hop Community now only come out to dance once in awhile in their respective local scenes. At the time some of those individuals were newer dancers, now they are respected leaders in our community. Others were established instructors at the time and can still be found at big events such as Herräng.
This clip shows the natural ebb and flow in our community, however something else is presented as well. One of the main things all these individuals had in common was this man, Leonard Reed. Inspiration is never a force to be underestimated.