Collegiate shag

Collegiate shag

The Collegiate Shag (or "Shag") is a partner dance done primarily to upper tempo jazz music (usually 200+ beats per minute). It belongs to the swing family of American vernacular dances that arose in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.



"Shag" itself (when used in reference to American social dances) is a very broad term used to denote a number of swing dances that originated during the early part of the 20th century. Arthur Murray mentioned Shag in his 1937 book "Let's Dance".[1] This article states that shag was known throughout the entire country under various names, like "Flea Hop". A New York writer sent to Tulsa, Oklahoma in late 1940/early 1941 noted an "...Oklahoma version of shag done to the Western Swing music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys at the Cain's Dancing Academy in Tulsa."[2]

Today the term "Collegiate Shag" is most often used in reference to a kind of double shag (see explanation below) that is believed to have originated in New York during the 1930s. To call the dance "collegiate shag" was not as common during the swing era as it is today, but when it was used (as it was with other vernacular dances of the time) it was meant to indicate the style of the dance that was popular amongst the college crowd. This name later became somewhat standard in the latter part of the 20th century (see swing revival), presumably because it helped to distinguish the dance from other contemporary dances that share the "shag" designation (e.g., Carolina Shag).


Shag has no clear historical record but is often assumed, as with many other swing dances, to have evolved from Foxtrot. In the late 19th century the term "shagger" was supposedly a nickname for vaudeville performers [1], who were known to dance the Flea Hop. Later "shag" became a blanket term that signified a broad range of jitterbugging (swing dancing). In the 1930s there were arguably a hundred or more stylistic variations of the dance, which differed depending upon geographic region. These stylistic variations were later generalized into three rhythmic categories: single, double, and triple shag. The different names are intended to denote the number of 'slow' (e.g., step, hop) steps performed during each basic. The slow steps were then followed by two 'quick' steps (e.g., step, step).

The dance is still performed today (primarily double shag) by swing dance enthusiasts worldwide.


Described below is double shag, which uses a 'slow, slow, quick, quick' rhythm. The basic step has six counts.

Shag Position: the man's left arm is held straight up with his left elbow touching the woman's right elbow. Her arm should be fully or almost fully extended overhead as well. This was not always practiced, but it is understood to be one of the features that make collegiate shag unique. Some dancers prefer to hold the arms much lower, similar to conventional ballroom positioning. The follow's footwork usually mirrors the lead's. The basic step is danced in a face-to-face ("closed") but staggered position (i.e., the lead and follow are chest to chest, but their orientation to one another is offset in such a way that the feet are not toe-to-toe but alternate, like the teeth of a zipper).

Note: Step (in the description below) is defined as: a transfer/change of weight to the opposite foot while hopping (this is usually very minimal; almost more of a scoot than a literal hop). Hop is defined as: a lift-and-plant motion on the same foot. Planted foot is the foot with the dancer's weight on it

  • Basic: (from the lead's point-of-view) Beat 1: STEP onto left foot, beat 2: HOP on left, beat 3: STEP onto right foot, beat 4: HOP on right, beat 5: STEP onto left foot, and beat 6: STEP onto right foot. The movement during beats 5 and 6 is often described as a shuffling motion. As mentioned above, this is usually broken down verbally as "slow, slow; quick, quick" where the 'slows' cover two beats (or 'counts') each and the 'quicks' mark a single beat (or 'count') each. Hence, for the lead this would be two counts with the weight on the left leg while the right leg moves, two counts with weight on the right leg while the left leg moves, followed by a quick step onto the left and then a quick step onto the right. The follow's movement would be the exact opposite.
  • Camel kicks: (done with the partners positioned side-by-side) the same movement as the basic but where the non-planted foot kicks on each slow, and where the quick-quicks are done with one foot behind the other (in tandem).
  • Breaks: A step and hold action where the non-planted leg is extended fully and the planted leg is bent underneath the dancer for support (hop onto left, leaving out the step; hop onto right, leave out the step; step left and step right)
  • Turns: the follow can be turned with an overhead, a free, or an Apache turn on the slows or the quicks-quicks (to do so on the quick-quick is considered more traditional)

See also


  1. ^ Let's Dance. Arthur Murray. 1937. Standard Brands Incorporated. page 27. No ISBN in this "booklet", which appears to have been sold by mail. "Can people really learn to dance from printed lessons?"
  2. ^ San Antonio Rose - The Life and Music of Bob Wills. Charles R. Townsend. 1976. University of Illinois. page 198. ISBN 0-252-00470-1

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