It’s My Way Or Any Other Way That Suits Really

Although this is primarily a blog about about Shag, I guess this post could relate to any dance style.

The last couple of years has seen a slow but steady stream of US Shag teachers arrive in the UK to meet an every increasing demand for top class shag tuition. You cannot believe how happy I am that this is happening. It helps break the cycle of repeated beginners workshops, and moves our favourite dance onwards and upwards into a more mature domain. That’s got to be a good thing.

Over the years, Sharon and I have been fortunate to have been able to travel across Europe, Canada and the USA, to take classes and workshops from the best Shag dancers and teachers in the world. Its given us a great opportunity to enhance our Shag specific teaching skills and understand what makes those great dancers so great. However the opportunity to learn from a multitude of the best does not come without it’s own challenges.  You see what works for teacher A, may not necessarily work for teacher B, or C, or D for that matter, and that means that their teaching methods and advice may on occasion conflict with each other. Students From around the country have brought this to my attention over the last 12 months, and its something Sharon and I learned to deal with many years ago.

The simple fact is the conflict doesn’t matter. What teachers are teaching works for them. Their experience, fitness, technique all come together to make them the great dancers they are, right? So if you copy exactly what they tell you to do, you will be a great dancer too right? Well maybe. What works for them may not necessarily work for you. Your experience, fitness and technique make you a slightly different dancer. The important thing to find when learning from multiple teachers is what works for you best; what are you most comfortable with; and use that. I’ve found over the years a pick and mix approach works best. A hand full of stuff from class A, with sprinkling from workshop B, including a little je ne sais quois from watching teacher C in that awesome performance they did on YouTube.

The fact is, all those teachers are correct even when they are wrong for you. You just need to find who’s correct for you, when.


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With Me Or Against Me

Large group, mostly men, surrounds couples jit...It’s been quite a while since I last posted, but a conversation I had recently with a fellow Shag dancer from Denmark inspired me to delve deeper into a phrase I had been given in a conversation a few years ago, and also share my thoughts.  Now I have only ever entered two dance competitions, so I shouldn’t in anyway be considered an expert in competition camaraderie, but from the little experience I have had, I can vouch for its existence, and here’s a little glimmer into why it is important.

My Danish friend and I, had both ended up entering the Munich Shag Battle, with our respective partners, and we were chatting about our nerves prior to the competition. It was then that I recalled a conversation I’d had with another Shag dancer at the Hot Rhythm Holiday weekender in Texas. I’d been asked why Sharon and I hadn’t entered the Shag competition there. I’d probably given some excuse about going up against the awesome competition or something similar when the rebut was, “you’re not competing against other dancers; you’re competing with other dancers”. It was a subtle, but very powerful turn of phrase that penetrated deep into my psyche.

Now coming from the UK where competitive swing dancing is almost non-existent, I’m not sure if that phrase is common knowledge elsewhere, but it struck a chord with me. I think it also did the same for my Danish friend, which caused me to think about it a little deeper.

Competing “against” other dancers implies a selfish wish for them to fail, for us to be better than them, and as such we close our minds to what they can offer us or our community. When we compete “against”, we cease to cooperate for the common good and just seek to defeat our foe.

Competing “with” other dancers implies a partnership, where each and every one can learn from each other.  Dancers compete “with” by sharing their patterns and techniques on the dance floor and testing capability. If accepted by other dancers those patterns and techniques can be adapted and improved upon. This in turn benefits the entire community further. Competitors who compete “with” do not seek the failure of others; they support and encourage participation, best performance, and success for all.

This cooperative competition is what makes the swing dance community so strong. It’s how the dances developed back in the day, and it’s how we will all continue to improve to be the best we can, no matter what level we’re dancing at; competitive or not.

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A Shag Utopia

I sometimes wonder if I’m doing more to hinder social shag rather than promote it. I mean, yes I dance Shag with Sharon at every opportunity;  I also dance Shag with people from other dance communities as much as I can, so I do my bit in the moment. However my on-line presence, and in particular my postings of dance clips in Collegiate Shag UK, does nothing really to display what social Shag actually looks like. The majority of on-line videos tend to be of competitions, well-rehearsed routines, people at the top of their game, typically world class dancers.

So I ask myself the question; am I promoting a Shag utopia? Will the average social Shagster always think of themselves at beginner or improver level in comparison to the superb displays we all love watching on-line  There are not enough of us on the dance floors (yet) to compare ourselves against each other in the same way we could with Balboa or Lindy, so where are we at with social Shag? Are we sure we know what good social Shag looks like?

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The Shag Evangelist

So at the end of the first quarter of this self-declared year of Social Shag I’ve had the pleasure of dancing with members of up to 6 different dance communities, London, East and West Midlands, Bristol, Gloucestershire, and my own. Collegiate Shag here in the UK is very insular in that people tend to dance Shag within their own communities and rarely outside, but this needs to change. Each community has its own slightly different style as you’d expect as well as they’re own level of confidence. But each community has one thing in common; they each have a recognisable Shag evangelist; someone who dances and inspires others to Shag at every opportunity.  I could name names but you know who you are. If you are as passionate about Shag as I think you are, the next time you venture further afield, seek out the local Shagster and see what they can do. You never know you might like it.

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2013: The Year of Social Shag

“You’re out, you’re out”.
Anyone who has danced Collegiate Shag has surely heard this; and whilst more experienced dancers can learn techniques to hide, and quickly recover from the cheese grater or “Urout” moments; it can all to soon disincentivise beginners.

To counteract the “Urout”, couples who have become comfortable dancing Shag together, tend to dance soley together, to the exclusion of others. I can understand this exclusivity, having been guilty of it myself. Once you have felt the euphoria of Shagging an entire dance without a Urout, you want to do it again and again. In that sense, an end to end Shag is a little like crack cocaine – somewhat more-ish. No wonder once we have acomplished that basic skill, we are reluctant to break the partnership that has given us that wonderfull Shag high.

So we can all avoid Urouts by dancing with our regular partners, but to take Collegiate Shag to the next level, and make it a regular sight on our dance floors, we have to go backwards to go forwards.

That is why I have declared 2013 the year of Social Shag. Find the Shagster in your midst, someone you have never danced with; embrace the Urouts, develop the techniques to circumnavigate them; and break down the boundaries of our Shag communities.

Go ask someone else to Shag, you know you want to.

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Say It Loud

Whether you consider yourself to be a complete beginner, or an advanced Collegiate Shag Master , there is one piece of styling that can cripple anyone’s confidence on the dance floor. It can reduce the most experienced dancer to embarrassed fools. I am talking about the humble trucking finger. Once a form of micky taking by Savoy dancers towards the tray spinning waiters, that extended index finger  now causes consternation amongst Shagsters across nations. I only have one thing to say on the subject. If you’re going to do it, do it large. Index finger fully extended and upper arm at shoulder height at a minimum. Say it loud, “I’m trucking and proud”.

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Say Cheese

When  you’re next at a dance, take a look around the dance floor and check out the people who are smiling as they dance.  To me it’s obvious why they are smiling. They’re sharing a moment with their dance partner, whether that moment is a piece of conversation;  an interesting  “variation”; or  simply the pure joy of experiencing the moment when all things come together, your partner, the dance, the music. I say simply because moments like that come naturally.

Yes you have to practice so that you can free your mind of the technical elements of dancing, but once achieved you can experience joy in its purest form.

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What a Year!

Nearly half way through December already!

As the end of 2011 is rapidly approaching I took some time out to reflect on what we’ve done over the last 12 months. It’s been an amazing year.

We started 2011 still getting over the shock of entering our first dance competition in San Francisco. What very few people know however is that while we were in San Francisco we also willingly entered another competition and won the Mr & Mrs Golden Gate Vintage Swing  title. It involved dressing up in the theme of each night of the event and being secretly monitored for dance floor etiquette, friendliness etc.. I thought some of the intense grillings Sharon and I had from some of our dance partners over the 3 nights was just the American way, but we soon realised why.  It was great fun

In February we had a fantastic weekend at the superbly organised Paris Balboa Shag Festival with Advanced level workshops by World Class Shag instructors, Peter Logins and Mia Goldsmith; Johnny Bluejeans  and Rebecca Williams; and Zack Richards and Maryse Lebau. On the Saturday night we performed for the festival as part of the Paris Shag performance team.  3 hours of rehearsals with Johnny and Rebecca and then we’re on. It was pretty intense stuff but a great experience.

In March we went live with our website and our Blog. It was intended to be an outlet for my ramblings and as a hub for UK based collegiate shag enthusiasts.  However in April we launched our ever expanding Facebook group Collegiate Shag UK, where we advertise and promote as much Collegiate Shag as we can find. Not just our lessons, but everyone’s in the UK along with European Workshops and International weekenders. It’s taken the focus off the website, but it achieved the main objective of bringing together Shag fans. We now have a core group of UK Shagsters who are raising the profile of Shag throughout the land, and also members from USA, France, Germany, Czech Republic, and Russia.

In May we had a superb time at the Shag Rattle and Roll Weekender in Munich with London based Shag and Balboa instructors Natasha Hall and Paul Crook. Christine Von Scheidt put on a great event and if you get the opportunity then I’d recommend visiting Munich for a Swing event such as Shag It or the Munich Lindy Exchange.  The swing crowd there really are so very welcoming. We also took part in a trial Shag lesson taught by Tony Fraser in New York and beamed through the power of the internet directly into our living room. We reckon it was the first ever Trans-Atlantic Collegiate Shag Class. Ground breaking stuff!

Following on from the success of Mays Trans-Atlantic Shag class; in June we took two of Tony’s workshops again beamed live from New York to our living room; a “Collegiate Shag Connections Intensive” and a “Tricks for Shag” class. We really should do more of these remote lessons. We also finally gave in to demand and organised our 1st Collegiate Shag Summer Skool. It was extremely well attended in July and August despite it being holiday season.  We also taught a  Shag Taster for Birmingham’s premier retro night, Hot Ginger. We had some great feedback from both events and decided to continue teaching regular lessons.

September saw us invited to the Goodwood Revival as part of the Goodwood Dancers dancing with fab bands Rock The Joint and Oo-Bop-Sh-bam. We also attended the London Shag weekend workshops hosted by London Swingcats, Claire and Robert  Austin, and taught by our old friend  New York based Shag Master Tony Fraser.

October was a real challenge as Sharon broke her foot!! However we had fantastic support from our students and together we completed the dance classes we had already planned with me leading the class and Sharon barking orders from the side lines.

November saw us getting back into fitness. With Sharon out of action because of her foot it’s surprising how quickly we became unfit. I’m sure we were a sorry sight panting and wheezing off the dance floor after each Shag dance. Still; we’re slowly getting back to where we should be now!

Redbrook Village Hall became our new base in November and as our beginner students had come on so quickly, we introduced a new intermediate level lesson to follow our beginners class. It’s been fantastic for us to watch our students kicking up the dance floor with their new Shag skills and also to dance Shag with them wherever we can.

And finally this December sees us making exciting plans for 2012. If it’s going to be anything like this year then it’s going to be one hell of a year. We can’t wait….

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North vs South

In April this year I created the Facebook Group “Collegiate Shag UK”. My thinking was to bring together everyone who had an interest in Shag and to build a little momentum behind promoting our favourite dance and giving a forum where people could post clips, advertise events, and generally act as hub for all UK Collegiate Shag activities.

I set about doing a little research as to where the regular Shag classes were, so I could attempt some targeted advertising for the new group.  I decided I would only focus on the regular classes rather than adhoc workshops as they would be the areas where the dance was either thriving or there were like-minded  people who loved the dance enough to want to go out and teach others on a regular basis.

Collegiate Shag UK Map

To be honest, I’m still quite shocked not only by the small number of regular Shag classes but also by their locations. Seems like you’re hard pressed to get a Shag class anywhere above Birmingham.  In fact if it wasn’t for Paul & Fae from Rug-Cutters then the situation would be even worse with the most Northerly city having nearby regular Shag lessons being Gloucester. Yep Gloucester! The great bastion of the North…

There’s Lindy Hop from Plymouth to Edinburgh so what happened to Collegiate Shag. The great Northern dance, clogging, is not that far removed from Shag styling with all the action below the waist; so why aint there more Shag up North? Come on people I’d love to know….

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Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

Despite a small technical hitch with Sharon having fractured her foot, we are still going to run our lessons as planned with a few adjustments.

The format will be slightly different from usual, with Dai working directly with class members for both lead and follow, and Sharon providing input from the sidelines specifically for the follows.

We really didn’t want to disappoint people by cancelling the lessons but can understand if you have concerns. We’ll get some feedback at the end of each class to see if the temporary approach is working.

See you Thursday
Dai & Sharon

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