|Shim Sham History|
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Heather Thoemke and Cameron Sellers
Debra Sternberg's story (and she's sticking to it) is that Tacky Annie was a stripper. She used to do that little step (while shimmying, of course!) in her altogether.
Perhaps all the great Jazz steps come from strippers.
Of course, the Sterns (in their book Jazz Dance) believe (as do I) that all the Jazz steps came up from the South with the migration of the former slave descendents to the cities. These steps have counterparts in Africa still danced to this day, where all rhythm and dance comes from the gods, according to popular belief. Dancing and music is the way we communicate in their language, according to African folk religion.
I rather like that. I like dancing steps that come from the gods. The gods have good taste. It elevates the task of perfecting our dancing to the level of a spiritual quest.
And in a handful of paragraphs, I've gone from the riduculous to the sublime.
History of Shim Sham (1)
Check out Charlie's Website
History of Shim Sham (2)
Hi Frank,At first glance I have seen considerable variation from the version of Shim Sham you sent, but, who's kidding who, the beauty and mystery of vernacular dance is the fact that it is NOT codified and therefore an uncontrollable beast! I love it. I've learned at least two versions, several different breaks, and well, it's all good. The tap version I learned from Ann Kilkelly which I used to amend the version that I "caught" at Glen Echo and various other spots.
Check out Rusty Frank's book (that's what all my citations are from): Tap!: The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and their Stories 1900-1955. Rusty E. Frank. Da Cappo Press: New York, NY 1990, rev. 1994.
The history of the Shim Sham according to Rusty Frank, who would be a great resource as she teaches, it was a tap step from the first decades of tap dance and was taught to her by Leonard Reed (who was from Kansas City!). Reed is credited with inventing it and danced it with Willie Bryant on the T.O.B.A. circuit, but their version was goofy, they actually called it "Goofus". According to Reed, while he was performing with the Whitman Sisters troupe a boy named Billy, who danced with Pops Whitman, left the troupe for New York and when he got there formed a group called Three Little Words. This new troupe danced Goofus, but called it the Shim Sham Shimmy adding a shaking of the shoulders (Frank 43-44). According the Francis Nealy, the Shim Sham was an East Coast/Mid-West thing and not danced on the West coast (Frank 253). In the same book, Frank interviews Ralph Brown, who explains that the Shim Sham is like, "...the national anthem of tap, it's the same thing." In other words, it's a group of steps that, while they are slightly different for each dancer, are similar enough for everyone to dance together. The history of tap is a riot of dancers thieving steps and style! It's the code to swipe what you like and invent the rest!
My experience with the Shim Sham as performed by most Swing dancers is that they do not understand the sycopation of the steps. Tap and Swing dance are very connected to the improvisational nature of jazz music and as such have a strong rhythmic emphasis. The Shim Sham and other Shine steps are often done on the "back beat" or the "and" (also called anecrusis or pick-up), or on the quarter, eighth or sixteenth division of the beat. In general dance steps accent the down beat by dancing around it, emphasizing the "time" prior to and after the emphasis from the rhythm pattern established in the music. Dancing on the "pick-up" creates a kind of polyrhythm that is the essence and definition of tap dance.
The whole Shim Sham sequence starts on count eight, creating what tap dancers and musicians call phasing. The dance steps are one beat off or ahead of the rhythm pattern of the music, but are the same musical length as those in the tune. Additionally, the Shim Sham shifts as it goes picking up accents at the quarter, eighth, and sixteenth division of the beat, while continuing in its pattern of phasing. It's quite sophisticated for social dancers, but very routine for tap dancers and musicians. Often a group of swing dancer's looses the phasing aspect of the rhythm while performing Tack Annie. The group inevitably returns to dancing on the down beat, or count 1. Learning and practicing the Shim Sham correctly is good practice for jazz/tap rhythm, and ultimately improves a dancer's ability to hear more in the music and improvise.
Here's Rusty Frank's definition of the Shim Sham Shimmy (Frank 281):
A four-step routine created in the 1920's by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant, originally called Goofus. Shimmying of the shoulders added. (The four steps are: 1. Shim Sham, 2.Push Beat and cross over, 3. Tack Annie, 4. Half Break, and the the Walk Off is tagged on).
Check out Jean's Kansas City Swing Website
About our Photo: This is Cameron Sellers and Heather Thoemke. After the routine, Heather untwisted her braids and swept up her hair for the team routine. If you saw her that night, you'd say she transformed herself from Dorothy of Kansas to Rosie the Riveter! Photo courtesy of Tricia Reneau
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