- What is this dance all the kids are doing today called Collegiate Shag?
- Where did it come from and what is its history?
The truth is that the history is very spotty, with very little documentation, and to make things worse the term “Shag” has come to mean various things, just like the term Jitterbug.
One of most popular dances in the United States today is called Carolina Shag, or (to many in that region) just “Shag”. A handful of Carolina Shag enthusiasts over the past couple decades have documented its history and have almost always made the mistake of relating their new “Carolina Shag” to the Shag done previous. However, before we get into that, letï¿½s start with square one with the term Collegiate Shag.The term Collegiate was simply a descriptive term used to explain who, or the way a dance was done. For instance Collegiate Waltz, or Collegiate Fox Trot, simply put, this was the way the college kids did the dance. Not tied to any ballroom or studio standard or structure, but rather to whatever they felt was the way. This could be considered a rebellious type of dance, but not so much in that they just had their own way which was, or could have been, the trendy or cool way to do it. Different schools had there way to do things and this is what set them a part, however being done by this age group created the college set.
So now, we just have Shag. Where does this word even come from? Well, I know the word is in fact used in an 1890 book with the definition being a vaudeville performer. This definition of the term Shag continued to be used all the way into the 1920ï¿½s; however its definition changed to be more specific describing burlesque acts, and not just any vaudeville performer.
One of the most knowledgeable historians in this field is Lance Benishek. He reminds us that these vaudeville performers did a step called the Flea Hop which consisted of a step-hop which alternated right to left, and that it is very possible that Shag came from that. Certainly it is possible, but to me, the stretch of going from solo dancing to partner dancing, and using the solo step leaves us gaps in the history which are not documented enough to be convincing. If for instance there was some solo dancing in the 20’s called Shag, then I’d find it more believable.
Let’s put all this term history to rest for a second and let me introduce to you the first use of the partner dance called “The Shagï¿½.
From my personal research (which comes from a Book called “Land of the Golden River” by Lewis Phillip Hall), during the winter of 1927 Lewis came up with a dance routine called “The Shag”, and introduced this in August of 1928 in Wilmington, NC at the Pirates Festival. Then in 1930, Kay Keever who was married to band leader Jelly Leftwhich, who played at the dances, remembers singing in his band and jumping off stage to dance the Shag with Lewis Hall, and backs up Lewisï¿½ claim that he was the one that invented the dance.
Although, in the south there were contests every summer at various ballrooms from 1929, it did not make it to the newspapers until 1932. This is the first newspaper article I have that mentions the Shag:
July 22, 1932 – Ironwood Daily Globe
When the convention of dancing teachers opened at the Hotel New Yorker recently, an announcement was made that the Lindy Hop remained an outstanding ballroom dance. During the several days which elapsed, someone must have gone over the more recent dispatches. Toward the final session the statements read that the Earhart Hop would be “the thing”.
This winter the Shag at eve will have its fill. The teachers have decided upon the Shag as one of their favorite dances. I’m told that it’s a mild form of Tango and an improvement on the shuffle. Well the milder the better, so far as I’m concerned.
Followed closely by this advertisement two months later:
September 1, 1932 – Wilmington Morning Star
SHAG Dance contest to be held tonight at Wrightsville.
Was this the same Shag dance being done today or called the Collegiate Shag? No, it’s not, but we are getting closer! This was the original Carolina Shag, or southern style Shag, which they simply called “Shag”. Today some teachers refer to this Shag as being “Single Shag”, and while it might look the same as Collegiate Shag, on closer look the footwork is actually different. In Single Shag the pattern of steps takes eight beats of music to complete, while Collegiate Shag only takes six beats of music to complete.