Shim Sham


Well-Known Member
It never ceases to amaze me how many different, weird-named swing dances there are. Um. What is shim sham? where is it done? Does anybody actually do it anymore, or is it one of the historical (meaning dead :lol: ) dances? What does the basic look like?


New Member
Jenn: [google]shim sham[/google]!

no no let me help

It's a non-partnered dance (well not entirely, in all versions) derived from an old tap warmup routine using jazz steps, as I was taught. There are three versions that I know of.

When you watch these video clips keep in mind that everyone styles the footwork (and arms) differently. Remember these are jazz steps.

1. The most common one -- in my experience -- is the one Frankie Manning calls. I found many sites that explain the steps and a video clip that I've downloaded (get the video clip at: and scroll down to the "Snurr film!" area and click on green link. (It's a Danish website so I'm being helpful here. It's also a 26mb for broadband, I guess. It's great for seeing the footwork. and explain the footwork

2. here's a video of the Dean Collins version:
Can't find the full footwork explained, but here's something:

3. I don't know the name of the third version; just saw a couple of people doing it recently. It looks even more difficult that the first two.

Okay then, that should get you started


Well-Known Member
Thanks suek for the info, and Pygmalion for bringing it up. :D I am always interested in increasing my repertoire of dances. I definite will check this out and see what this is all about. :)

Vince A

Active Member
MapleLeaf Salsero said:
Sorry for my ignorance, what is Swing Dance?
A little help for ya' . . . try looking for more particulars using the "search" feature. Even as a moderator, I use it a lot . . .

Some of the Swing Dances

Count as in "6 count step" - the number of beats of music that a particular step takes up E.g. The under arm turn is a 6 count step. That is, it takes 6 beats of music to dance it.
East Coast Swing -
(1) a group of dances that are derivative of the Lindy Hop of the late 20's and early 30's. and which have not become slotted dances. In this broad sense, it includes Jitterbug, Lindy and Lindy Hop.
(2) another name for Jitterbug in its current usage.
Jitterbug -
(1) in the early history of swing dancing, another name for Lindy Hop.
(2) currently, a form of East Coast Swing derived from Lindy which includes primarily 6 count steps.
Lindy -
(1) in the early history of swing dancing, another name for Lindy Hop.
(2) a name for a form of East Coast Swing that evolved from Lindy Hop and which contains mostly 6 and 8 count steps.
Lindy Hop -
The original swing dance that arose in the late 20's and early 30's especially in New York City.
slotted dance -
a dance where the follower dances within a linear slot.
Example: West Coast Swing.
Swing -
(1) Originally, swing referred to a type of music, and not to a form of dancing.
(2) The names of what we now call swing dances have changed through time, and vary by geographic area, the context of the conversation, etc. In the 1930's "Lindy Hop", "Lindy" and "Jitterbug" were all the names of a single dance which is now often called "Lindy Hop".
step -
(1) a pattern that one can dance such as an under arm turn. Typically takes 6 to 8 beats of music to dance.
(2) a weight change where weight shifts from one foot to the other. (This use does not occur on this page.)
West Coast Swing -
a slotted dance that evolved from Lindy in Texas and on the West Coast which contains both 6 and 8 count steps.



Well-Known Member
Jenn, this is from a sheet that was going around at one of the local swing dances a few years ago - if you can make sense of it. I've never done the Shim Sham myself:


Taps (x3)
shim sham
Push it (x3)
Tacky Annie (x3)
shim sham
Break (x2)
shim sham
Break (x2)
----Repeat without shim sham—
Boogie Back
Slide Forward
Boogie Back
Shorty George
----Find a partner and dance--
----Freeze and Dance---

Shim sham is really fun! :)

The place that I took Lindy Hop lessons at for a few months used to teach us the Shim Sham as a warm up. I really enjoyed learning it, but the teachers taught it way too fast and most of the people in the class didn't like doing it. Due to this, unfortunately I didn't get a very good grasp of all the steps so I'm not sure what version of it I was learning, but the videos on the links that Suek provided looked very similiar.

I hope to learn more of it someday...I never learn well when someone shows me something above the level that I can retain the info and commit it to memory. :?


I love the shim sham! (though I haven't officially learned it) It's a lot of fun. Probably the earliest of line I'm just making that up. :D But it really is a lot of fun. Any one else do the Big Apple or Jitterbug Stroll?


Well-Known Member
Shorty George -- Isn't that where you go forward, with knees bending, one leg in foot of another, alternating, and hands pointing down, or something?

If you did the Shim Sham as a warm up and it had all sorts of moves like these, no wonder people didn't like it and it was hard to grasp, SG!!

Nope, don't do the Big Apple or jitterbug stroll. Do, you perchance know of clips on the net which show these, now that you have whetted my appetite?


New Member
I love love love the big apple.Once again, lots of jazz moves. Same with jitterbug stroll. Y'all gotta get yourselves to a lindy camp/workshop. This stuff rocks. Jazz steps are great to learn, as you can use them in all kinds of improv/syncopation (and you probably already do).
At Lindyfest last year, I pretty much focused on Lindy with some Bal and one Hip Hop class for variety, so I did not get to take the Big Apple or Shim Sham. Frankie Manning (turning 90! this year) taught these. He'll be back this year.
I took both the Shim Sham and Big Apple last time Frankie taught in our area. It's really unfortunate that there aren't more opportunities to do these dances, because they are a lot of fun, but like anything else, it's easy to forget them if you don't repeat them with some level of frequency. Frankie's son (Chazz) does the Shim Sham with additional tap stylings, which is incredible to watch.
Vince A said:
East Coast Swing -
(1) a group of dances that are derivative of the Lindy Hop of the late 20's and early 30's. and which have not become slotted dances. In this broad sense, it includes Jitterbug, Lindy and Lindy Hop.
Nonononono. In no way shape or form is Lindy or Lindy Hop classified under East Coast Swing. Anyone attempting to do so will have the Lindy Hop Assassin, LindyJihad hunt them down and make them listen to Glenn Miller until their ears bleed.

ECS, refers specifically to the non-slotted dances that are six count dominant the evolved in the mid to late fifities.

Lindy Hop -
The original swing dance that arose in the late 20's and early 30's especially in New York City.
Texas Tommy is the original Swing Dance. Lindy Hop is the derivitive or "evolved" form that became a national phenomenon. Danced primarily from the early thirties to the late forties.
Okay the Shim Sham was a tap dance choreographed by Leonard Reed which and his partner used on and off Broadway. It became a standard closing routine for shows everywhere since during the time every vaudeville performer was pretty much required to be able to at least do a time step, and after the television became a popular medium, most of its stars were from vaudeville. There are still clips of people like Milton Bearle closing their shows with the Shim Sham.

The Lindy Hoppersadapted the dance using the jazz versions of the Tap steps, and actually do it more often than the Tap Dancers these days though it is a somewhat simpler version.

The full nameof the dance these days is the Shim Sham Shimmy, which is the name of the first step of the dance. Its original name was "The Goofus". Where Spitfire has Shim Sham it should read "Break" and were it reads "Break" it should read "Half-Break". The Break and Half Break are the closest steps to the original Tap version.

Leonard has choreographed a second Shim Sham, much more difficult, and generally done to faster music. When I last saw him he wasn't doing much teaching, mostly producing shows, dancers, singers, and actors.
I love the shim sham... but I agree I like the big apple bettter. IT IS MORE CHARLSTON BASED and there are some variations that I have seen. In different regions people make-up thjere own version of the big apple. but there is one basic one that like, everyone knows.

Shim sham is done I know like everywhere i florida and they the exchanges they do the shim sham and the big apple at least once.. they even do swing reuda in some places.

I think the hard thing about the shim sham, when yuo are first learning, is remembering the steps and then once you have the steps , the order of the steps. It is really fun though even when everyoen doesn't know the steps. That's how yuo learn, I mean if yuo haven't taken a class, then you have to just get out there.

suek said:
3. I don't know the name of the third version; just saw a couple of people doing it recently. It looks even more difficult that the first two.
This is probably Al Minn's and Leon James' Shim Sham... by far the hardest, and coolest I've seen.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
Believe it or not, I ended up here because Billy Gussak, the drummer for Bill Haley and the Comets, who went to the Julliard School of Music, was known to listen to music at the Sim Sham Club in Harlem when he was a young man. And as I was looking into that, I found this...

According to tap dancer Howard “Stretch” Johnson, whose sister was one of the featured dancers at the Cotton Club in the early 1930s the Shim-Sham or Shimmy was invented by chorus line dancers at the 101 Ranch on 140th Street in Harlem. The shambling nature of the steps, especially the first eight bars, and the fact that females were played by men was reflected in the contraction “shim.”

There's more there, which kind of explains why this version of the origin doesn't have traction in the mainstream, and you will most likely be able to see the references in the wikipedia article when I post them there.

This is not exactly consistent with the standard narrative that Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant invented the shimmy routine.

I also kept running across the quote from the Stearns "Jazz Dance" describing it as "a one-chorus routine to a 32-bar tune, with eight bars each," consisting of the double shuffle, crossover, an up-and-back shuffle and then another move, characterized as "falling off a log."
Oh no! We do the Shim Sham every single week at my local dance. Everyone gets super psyched about it when the certain song comes on. The experienced people run right up to the speakers and the newbies stand in the back struggling to keep up. It's so fun though! Even if I am one of the newbs that's just learning it. :)

Steve Pastor

Staff member
This is from "Tap Dancing America."

There was, for example, the one-chorus routine called the shim sham shimmy. While Leonard Reed claims to have created this routine combination with his partner Willie Bryant, it is more likely that it evolved in collaboration with the female chorus of the Whitman Sisters troupe.

In the late 1920S, Reed and Bryant were playing the black vaudeville TOBA circuit with the Whitman Sisters. "We needed a quick finale, so simple and easy to do," said Reed about the dance they first called Goofus.

To the tune of "Turkey in the Straw," the one-chorus routine was danced to the thirty-two-bar tune with eight bars each of
the double shuffle,
Tack Annie, and
falling-off-the-log-all of which are standard jazz dance steps.

Reed remembered that the chorus girls liked "Goofus" so much that they added their own feminine embellishment on the exit step with a shimmy-a quick and flirtatious shaking of the shoulders." When Reed and Bryant made it to New York in 1931 to perform at Harlem's Lafayette Theatre, they discovered that the dance had already caught on and was a favorite at a club called the Shim Sham. There it was regularly performed by a female chorus to the new name ofthe shim sham shimmy. The Harlem Opera House announced its stage show, Shim Sham Shimmy Champions, "Harlem's newest sensational dance craze, the 'Shim Sham Shimmy,' with the five winning couples in person.?"
Since that time, literally hundreds of dancers, unknowing of the dance's origins in the female chorus, have made their own versions ofthe shim sham. Performed throughout the twentieth century at the culmination of performances, the shim sham is regarded as tap dance's national anthem.

I also noticed that Leonard Reed passed away, at the age of 97, just a few months after d nice made his post. The New York Times noted that "Mr. Reed was born in Lightning Creek, Okla., on Jan. 7, 1907. He was of black, white and Choctaw descent."

Dance Ads