The Shim Sham and The Ambassador of Swing



If you’ve been to a Swingin’ Wednesday you’ve seen the Shim Sham. Every week, without fail, one of our DJs for the evening will play one of several iconic songs and dancers will flock to the floor to participate in the line dance anthem of the swing community – the Shim Sham. Here’s a group of swing dancers in Germany doing the Shim Sham at Rock That Swing Festival (RTSF) 2015:

So swing dancers all over the world know it, but where did it start?

The Shim Sham began in the 1920s as a tap dance, and by the 1930s it was starting to catch on – even some dancers at the Savoy Ballroom (more on that location in a future post!) would jump up and dance the Shim Sham in the corner while others danced on. The version of the Shim Sham danced today, though, we owe to Frankie Manning. Here’s a video of Frankie himself hamming up the Shim Sham with Chazz Young, whom you’ll recognize from the previous video:

But who IS Frankie Manning? Only the most celebrated Lindy Hopper in history. Frankie danced at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in the 1930s, where he and his partner Frieda Washington danced the first aerial during a swing dance competition in 1935. Frankie was also a member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, a group of professional, performing Savoy Ballroom dancers, whom you might actually have seen in this video, which tends to pop up from time to time on social media:

(Please remember that aerials, tricks, and dips are for competitions and performances, not the social dance floor!)

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers disbanded at the onset of WWII when Frankie and many of the other male dancers joined the military. When he was released from the Army in 1946, Frankie continued to dance and perform until entertainers such as himself were pushed out with the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s.

In 1989, though, swing dancing was revived and with it, Frankie’s career as an instructor and performer. During this time Frankie choreographed all over the world for dance companies, movies, and even won a Tony Award for his choreography on Broadway – it’s no wonder that it was during this era that he brought us the version of the Shim Sham we know and love.

Frankie left us in 2009, but his legacy lives on in many, many ways, one of which is a group of people smiling and dancing out his choreography every Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio, USA. If you’d like to be a part of this awesome dance each week, you’re always welcome to jump on the dance floor and follow along! If you’d like a solid lesson on the Shim Sham – check out this YouTube playlist where professional lindy hoppers Patrick and Natasha break the Shim Sham down into 7 manageable steps that you can pause, repeat, and go over at your own speed!

See you on the dance floor!