In the late 1920s, when Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant were with the Whitman Sisters troupe on the T.O.B.A. circuit, they danced what they called "Goofus" to the tune Turkey in the Straw. The routine consisted of standard steps: eight bars each of the Double Shuffle, the Cross Over, Tack Annie (an up-and-back shuffle), and Falling Off a Log.
In early 1930s, the Shim Sham was performed on stage in Harlem at places like Connie's Inn, Dickie Wells's Shim Sham Club, the 101 Ranch, the LaFayette Theatre, and the Harlem Opera House.
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. For example, in 1931 flash dance act The Three Little Words would close their show at Connie's Inn with the Shim Sham, 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 Joe Jones.
According to tap dancer Howard “Stretch” Johnson the word "Shim" was a contraction of the term "she-him", a reference to the fact that the female chorus line dancers at the 101 Ranch were played by men.
At the Savoy Ballroom, some lindy hoppers did the shim sham as a group line dance, without the taps. A bunch of dancers would just jump up and start doing the shim sham on the side of the ballroom, over in the corner. Although a few people might join in, most everybody else kept on dancing without paying any attention to it.
In the mid-1980s, Frankie Manning introduced the shim sham at New York Swing Dance Society dances, and he also created a special version of the shim sham for swing dancers. Frankie Manning's version of the shim sham really caught on, and it's now done at swing dances all over the world.
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There are several variations of "shim sham" choreography. There is the choreography used by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant, as well as a number of variations by Leonard Reed and others. Other "shim sham" choreographies include ones by Frankie Manning, Al Minns and Leon James (also called the "Savoy Shim Sham"), and Dean Collins.
The Leonard Reed Shim Shams:
- The original Shim Sham from 1927, a 32-bar chorus composed of four steps and a break
- The Freeze Chorus, circa 1930s, the original Shim Sham without the breaks
- The Joe Louis Shuffle Shim Sham, 1948, 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, a 32-bar chorus dance based on the original Shim Sham
- The Revenge of the Shim Sham, 2002, a 32-bar chorus dance, Leonard Reed’s final Shim Sham, which builds upon his original four (the name was suggested by Maxwell DeMille at a performance at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles).
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/double shuffle
|1||8e1||stomp spank step||RRR|
|2e3||stomp spank step||LLL|
|2||4e1e||stomp spank ball change||RRRL|
|2e3||stomp spank step||RRR|
|3+4||repeat with sides reversed|
|5+6||repeat bar 1-2, ending with:|
|6||2e3||stomp spank touch||RRR|
|7||8 1||stamp toe||RL|
|2 3e||step hop step||LLR|
|2 3||step step||RL|
Step 2: Push and cross/Crossover
|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 spank touch (crossing behind)||RLRR|
|2e3||stamp spank touch (crossing behind)||RLL|
|18||4e1||stamp spank touch (crossing behind)||LRR|
|2e3||stamp spank step (crossing behind)||RLL|
|19-22||repeat twice, ending with:|
|22||2e3||stamp spank step||RLL|
|23+24||Break as before|
Step 4: Half breaks/Falling-off-the-log
|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|
- Valis Hill, Constance (2010). Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-19-539082-7.
- Manning, Frankie (2007). Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Temple University Press. pp. 70, 226. ISBN 978-1-59213-563-9.
- Frank, Rusty (1994). Tap! the greatest tap dance stars and their stories. Da Capo Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 0-306-80635-5.
- Feldman, Anita (1996). Inside Tap. Princeton Book Company. pp. 105–106. ISBN 0-87127-199-0.
- Stearns, Marshall and Jean (1994). Jazz Dance: the story of American vernacular dance. Da Capo Press. pp. 195–196. ISBN 0-306-80553-7.
- Boyd, Herb (2000). Autobiography of a People: three Ccnturies of African American history told by those who lived it. Doubleday, a division of Random House. p. 260. ISBN 0-385-49278-2.
- "The Shim Sham". Jitterbuzz.com. Retrieved 22 May 2018.