Early in my dancing, every form of partnered swing dancing was a wonderful and exciting new mystery. I was lucky to learn in the Southern California scene where dancers not only did Lindy Hop, but also Balboa and Collegiate Shag. In fact, some of the best Bal and Shag dancers lived and danced in So Cal at that time. I was lucky to dance with and learn from them both in classes and on the social floor.
Like many newer dancers, I thought hard-hitting, high-energy shag was the only way to dance Collegiate Shag. I would leave the floor winded and sweaty, and my knees and ankles were always sore the next day. I’m so thankful for the dancers who showed me another way of dancing Shag, a smooth way, and more comfortable way.
When talking with the original dancers, who we affectionately call “the Old Timers,” they all described Shag as they danced it in the 1930s and 40s as “smooth” and “elegant.” Yet, that’s rarely what I see on the dance floor.
Collegiate Shag is one of my favorite styles to teach, not only because it’s a lovely dance style, but also because it’s still somewhat unknown and misunderstood. I love sharing that Shag can be smooth, comfortable, and danced all night long without pain or lethargy. One of the best compliments I’m paid is when female students come up to me after a Shag class exclaiming that this class was the first time they’ve danced Shag and their boobs didn’t hurt! Haha!
Fifteen years ago, Balboa had its renaissance, when the global dance scene decided to find out how Balboa was danced and what it looked like originally. That time has come for Shag. Working on my Shag dancing has been such a great project in recent years. Long time dancers often stop exploring new styles and ways of moving. It’s difficult to feel like a beginner again. For me, it’s been a fantastic exercise in efficiency, rhythms and timing, subtle following, and working on continuing my momentum and flow. I’ve loved having to work on new ideas and ways of moving, and exploring new dance moves and history.
Love dancing Shag? Come ask me to dance!
— Lauren Smith (2017)