Jazz steps and solo movement are an important part of the historic roots of Lindy Hop that are often overlooked among new dancers. Whether utilized to show off during an individual “shine” moment, or danced with a partner in a lead and follow manner, jazz steps are great for decorating and embellishing your dancing…like sprinkles on a cake.
There are many reasons to learn jazz steps and routines, including:
- you can dance them even if you don’t have partner at the moment
- practicing individual movements helps improve your balance, coordination and quality of movement which help greatly when partner dancing too
- learning, experiencing and preserving the historic roots of the dance
- becoming familiar with common rhythms and syncopation of jazz and swing dancing
- it can be a good workout
- they’re fun!
Of the many jazz routines in the history of Lindy Hop, four stand out to me as essential knowledge for every serious Lindy Hopper. These are the Shim Sham, Jitterbug Stroll, Tranky Doo and Big Apple. This three part post explores some of the history and noteworthy aspects of these dances.
1. the Shim Sham Shimmy (easy)
The Shim Sham Shimmy (or just Shim Sham) was originally a tap dance. During the 1920s and 1930s, stage performers would often dance the Shim Sham together as a final dance routine of their show, with cast members performing to their ability: dancers would incorporate tap dance variations, while musicians and singers would shuffle along as well as they could.
In modern times, the Shim Sham has become sort of an Electric Slide of swing dancing…a relatively simple routine that many people know, which they can perform together as a communal sort of dance. Legendary dancers Frankie Manning, Norma Miller and dancers from the original swing era have played no small part in popularizing its performance at swing dance events and keeping this part of swing history alive.
The routine consists of 16 8-counts of material which conveniently fit many pieces of jazz music written with a 32 bar swing chorus song structure. A common theme (and memory aid) in the routine is to dance 3 8-counts of a signature step followed by a “break step.” It was popularly danced to songs including Stompin’ at the Savoy (Benny Goodman) and Tuxedo Junction (Erskine Hawkins). Frankie Manning helped create a tradition of dancing the Shim Sham to Jimmie Lunceford’s ‘T’aint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It), including his pantomime of a father instructing his son during the middle part of the song.
Of the 4 routines mentioned in this post series, the Shim Sham is definitely the most popular and commonly danced…and probably the one you should learn first.
2. the Jitterbug Stroll (easy)
The Jitterbug Stroll is actually a modern contribution to jazz dancing. Swing dance teacher Ryan Francois (Great Britain) choreographed the routine which was originally danced to the song Woodchopper’s Ball by Woody Herman. Lindy Hoppers also commonly dance the routine to “The Jitterbug Stroll”, a song recorded by swing dance teacher Steven Mitchell, in which the lyrics call out the dance steps in order, making it extremely easy for new dancers to catch on. Because of the song, Steven Mitchell is sometimes mistakenly credited with choreographing the dance.
The Jitterbug Stroll consists of 24 8-counts of material divided into 4 groups of 6 8-counts. Its structure lends itself well to dancing to songs that have a 12-bar blues musical structure. For each of the 4 sections of the routine, a signature step is danced 3 times, followed by “pivoting around”, another repetition of the signature step, punctuated by a break step.
One of my favorite aspects of the Jitterbug Stroll choreography is that most of the signature steps in the dance are actually mashups of two separate jazz steps. The first step, for instance combines a chug motion with boogie forward. The second signature step of the routine combines knee slaps with the Shorty George step. The concept of taking two separate movements and combining them in a new way is a great way to expand and indeed invent your own vocabulary of jazz steps.