The Shim Sham Shimmy, Shim Sham or just Sham originally is a particular tap dance routine. It is often credited to Leonard Reed, who originally called it Goofus, or to Willie Bryant. For swing dancers, today it is kind of line dance that recalls the roots of swing.
Although Willie Bryant and Leonard Reed are often credited with the origin while at the Lafayette Theater, flash-dancer Joe Jones of The Three Little Words has stated that he helped invent the routine. Marshall and Jean Stearns concluded that all of these dancers, and others, helped create the routine since it contained elements of various older steps.
In the late 1920s and the 1930s, at the end of many performances, all of the musicians, singers, and dancers would get together on stage and do one last routine: the Shim Sham Shimmy. Tap dancers would perform technical variations, while singers and musicians would shuffle along as they were able.
According to tap dancer Howard “Stretch” Johnson, whose sister was one of the featured dancers at the Cotton Club in the early 1930s, the Shim-Sham or Shimmy was invented by chorus line dancers at the 101 Ranch on 140th Street in Harlem. The shambling nature of the steps, especially the first eight bars, and the fact that females were played by men was reflected in the contraction “shim,” or "she him."
It became popular at Connie's Inn in Harlem when The Three Little Words would close their show and invite everyone to join in, "and the whole club would join us, including the waiters. For awhile people were doing the Shim Sham up and down Seventh Avenue all night long," according to Jones. The year was 1931.
In the modern Lindy Hop community, the Shim Sham is commonly performed as a line dance during dance events. Despite the existence of many variations, the dance has spread around the world, as was featured in the 'Global Shim Sham for Frankie' – a tribute performance for dance legend Frankie Manning's 95th birthday. As such, it has emerged as an emblem of the international nature of the swing dancing community.
As a result of this conglomerate background, there is not one universal "shim sham" choreography - there are several variations. When a group of people do the Shim Sham (especially a group of people from different cities), their steps will be largely similar with some variation and even some improvisation. One particular routine is quite common, and can be learned by intermediate dancers in a social setting. There are a number of alternative choreographies—one developed by Frankie Manning, another by Al Minns and Leon James (also called the "Savoy Shim Sham"), and a third by Dean Collins.
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.
THE LEONARD REED SHIM SHAMS:
- The original Shim Sham from 1927 is a 32 bar chorus composed of 4 steps and a break
- The Freeze Chorus, circa 1930’s. This dance is the same as the Shim Sham but without the breaks
- The Joe Louis Shuffle Shim Sham, 1948. This is a tap-swing dance 32 bar chorus number that Leonard Reed performed with the World Heavyweight Boxing champ Joe Louis
- The Shim Sham II, 1994. This dance is a 32 bar chorus dance based on the original Shim Sham
- The Revenge of the Shim Sham, 2002. This 32 bar chorus dance is Leonard Reed’s final Shim Sham, which builds elegantly upon his original four
The Shim Sham is 10 phrases of choreography (each phrase lasting four 8-counts), so it does not usually take up an entire song. After the Shim Sham was over, the dancers then would exit either stage left or right, depending on what was agreed upon for that show.
Today in the Lindy Hop scene, once the Shim Sham choreography is over, dancers typically grab a partner and break into lindy hop for the remainder of the song. During this portion of the song, the band or a DJ may call out "Freeze!" or "Slow!" instructing the dancers to either stop where they are or dance slowly, then call out "Dance!" to tell everyone to resumes normal dancing. The Frankie Manning version repeats the basic choreography (replacing each of the break steps with an 8-beat hold), then adds two Boogie Back/Boogie Forward phrases and two Boogie Back/Shorty George phrases to the end of the second repetition of the basic choreography. Only after the final Shorty George is completed do the dancers break into freestyle Lindy Hop.
The Shim Sham goes best with swing songs whose melody lines start on beat eight, as does the choreography. An obvious choice is The Shim Sham Song (Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra), which was written specifically for this dance and has musical effects (e.g., breaks) in all the right places. However, today the Shim Sham — particularly the Frankie Manning version — is danced more often to "'Tain't What You Do (It's The Way That Cha Do It)" by Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra, or "Tuxedo Junction" by Erskine Hawkins. In fact, it is typical now at a Lindy dance party for dancers to start up a Shim Sham whenever "'Tain't What You Do" is played. There is also a recording "Stompin' at the Savoy" with the George Gee band where Manning himself calls out the moves.
These are the steps of the original 32-bar Shim Sham:
Step 1: The shim sham
|1||8e1||stomp brush step||RLRR|
|2e3||stomp brush step||LRLL|
|2||4e1e||stomp brush ball change||RRRL|
|2e3||stomp brush step||RRR|
|3+4||repeat with sides reversed|
|5+6||repeat bar 1-2, ending with:|
|6||2e3||stomp brush touch||RRR|
|7||8 1||stamp toe||RL|
|2 3e||step hop step||LLR|
|2 3||step step||RL|
Step 2: Push and cross
|9||8123||stamp step stamp step||RLRL|
|10||4 1e||step heel step (crossing in front of right foot)||RRL|
|11+12||repeat with sides reversed|
|13+14||repeat bars 9+10|
|15||4 1e||step heel step (crossing)||LLR|
|16||repeat bar 15 with sides reversed|
Step 3: Tacky Annies/Tack Annies
|17||e4e1||stamp stamp brush touch (crossing behind)||RLRR|
|2e3||stamp brush touch (crossing behind)||RLL|
|18||4e1||stamp brush touch (crossing behind)||LRR|
|2e3||stamp brush step (crossing behind)||RLL|
|19-22||repeat twice, ending with:|
|22||2e3||stamp brush step||RLL|
|23+24||Break as before|
Step 4: Half breaks
|25||8 1||stamp step||RL|
|e2e3||shuffle ball change||RRRL|
|27+28||break as before|
|29-32||repeat 25-28, ending the break with:|
|2 3||jump out, jump in||BB|
- Feldman, Anita (1996). Inside Tap. Princeton Book Company. pp. 105–106. ISBN 0-87127-199-0.
- Jazz Dance: The Story Of American Vernacular Dance. Marshall and Jean Stearns. Da Capo Press, Mar 22, 1994, pps. 195-196
- "Stretch Johnson, 85, Tap Dancer and Activist Stretch" The New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
- Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of African American History Told by Those Who Lived It. Herb Boyd. Random House Digital, Inc., Dec 26, 2000. http://books.google.com/books?id=y3fnQN5jK5YC&pg=PT364&lpg=PT364&dq=Eddie+Dougherty+at+the+Shim+Sham+Club+in+Harlem&source=bl&ots=M7tw6ZwU7x&sig=JG9X2Fms4Lubr5z4SWR6tDH2mjU&sa=X&ei=CTUsUP_SKvCLyAGVw4HwCw&sqi=2&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=shim&f=false 8.2012
- Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. George Chauncey. Page 250
- Jazz Dance: The Story Of American Vernacular Dance. Marshall and Jean Stearns. Da Capo Press, Mar 22, 1994, p. 196