The Short Story of The Shim Sham

 Posted by on Feb 2, 2014 at 6:13 PM
Feb 022014
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~ The Short Story of The Shim Sham ~

by Harri Heinila

This is a reblog from a wonderful site of the history of Jazz Dance. Harri Heinila has graciously agreed to let me share this with you on my site. The Shim Sham is one of my favorite line dances the I learned from Frankie Manning at Swing Camp Catalina in 1996.

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila (published originally in 2009 in the late (the site by Peter Loggins)

Whitman SistersThe story starts from 1926, when Leonard Reed met Willie Bryant in one of Whitman Sister’s shows. Whitman Sisters had one of the longest running shows in the States,which lasted from about 1900 to 1943. They need for the show a quick finale, which Leonard and Willie made in the basement in very short time in 1927. They called this tap routine as ‘Goofus’ and it contained four steps: the double shuffle, the tack annie, the cross over and the half break as done by one chorus routine to a 32 bar tune. The tune that they used was ‘Turkey in the Straw’. They got the tack annie from a tap dancer called Jack Wiggins, who did a thing called ‘Pull it’, he used to say to the audience: ‘Do you want me pull it’. The answer was usually ‘Yes!’. Once he was performing to the audience where was also his girlfriend Annie. Jack said those words again and added: ‘Annie next step may be tacky, but I gonna do it for you!’. The half break they composed from the rhythm of ‘Bugle Rag Call’ and the double shuffle they invented after seeing some guy doing shuffle in an old movie.

leondard Reed Vintage Tap DancerThe dance was easy enough that they could teach even a total beginner to dance that in the show. One of dancers of the show got fired (obviously Joe Jones) and he went to New York and created there a group called ‘The Three Little Words’. The Three Little Words started to doing the dance at Connie’s Inn in Harlem and they called it Shim Sham (if we trust on Stearns’ Jazz Dance) or they went to the club called Shim Sham, where they started to call the dance by name Shim Sham Shimmy (if we trust on Leonard Reed’s own story). Anyway that happened in 1931 after which the dance (by original name ‘Goofus’) started to spread around rapidly. According to ‘Jazz Dance’ the dance evolved also into a quasi ballroom dance without taps. That version also obviously spread to the television programs and shows as a finale.

An interesting fact is that when The Three Little Words performed Shim Sham in the club in 1931, they also invited everybody to get aboard and that happened. The tradition of performing the dance as a group started then very early.

Frankie Manning Shim Sham Tacky AnnieSomehow that dance spread also into the Savoy Ballroom. Frankie Manning remembers that the dance was done as a group line dance without taps. It was different than today’s swing dancers do. They did only two choruses into usually 32 bar chorus songs. It wasn’t also organized thing or a big deal in the Savoy Ballroom. Only a few people joined to it according to Frankie.

It’s thus interesting that later, obviously in the end of 1940s or in the beginning of the 1950s they started to dance the Shim Sham version in the Savoy Ballroom, which we know as the Al & Leon Shim Sham or as the Line Routine (in the Spirit Moves). At least there are no earlier film clips of that routine than the Spirit Moves (from 1951) and it can’t be the same version Frankie told, because the Line Routine is longer than two 32 bar choruses. This version also differs mostly from the original Shim Sham. The origins of the A. & L. Shim Sham or the Line Routine are unknown.

Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan 40s JitterbugsAlso Dean Collins created his version of the Shim Sham. Dean’s Shim Sham starts in the same way than the original Shim Sham but with some modifications, after which it goes totally different direction. Dean created his version for performances (not for social dancing) with exactly choreographied steps and body movements. Dean obviously created his Shim Sham somewhere in 1938. There are some film clips where Dean’s Shim Sham is done partially (as the Hep and Happy by Glen Grey Orchestra). Only film clip where this Shim Sham is wholly done is from 1983 (by Dean himself and Bart Bartolo).

Later came also new Shim Sham versions from the original creator Leonard Reed, who created the latest version ‘Revenge of the Shim Sham’ in 2002 in the age of 95. Other versions he made were the Freeze Chorus somewhere in the 1930s (this is basically same than the original one, but there are freezes instead of full breaks), The duet variation Joe Louis Shuffle in 1948 and Shim Sham II in 1994.

For the rest of this blog please visit: HERE


Do you have experience with this dance? Do you like it? Why or why not? Do you feel like you’re tap dancing when you dance it?

Tam Francis, authorTam Francis is writer, blogger, swing dance teacher, avid vintage collector, and seamstress. She  shares her love of this genre through her novels, blog, and short stories. She enjoys hearing from you, sharing ideas, forging friendships, and exchanging guest blogs. For all the Girl in the Jitterbug Dress news, give-aways, events, and excitement, make sure to join her list and like her FB page! Join my list ~ Facebook page


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