There are 3 different dances that are all called Shag. Carolina Shag, which I don’t teach, is a slow southern dance that is reminiscent of West Coast Swing. St Louis Shag and Collegiate Shag are fast dances with lots of hopping. No one seems to really know why these dances all have the same name. Collegiate and St. Louis come from the swing era and are danced in combination with Lindy Hop.
St. Louis Shag is more complicated that Collegiate because it’s basic step can be challenging to learn. Once you get it down, however, the rest of the dance is fairly simple. Both of these fast shag dances require considerable stamina as they use a lot of energy and are danced to fast music. They are both fairly easy to learn, however, so I put them in the category of dances that are hard on the body (good exercise!) and easy on the brain. Although they are danced at Lindy dances, few enough people know them that you may miss your opportunity if you don’t happen to be standing next to a fellow shag dancer when a fast song comes up. They’re fun, though, so if a workshop comes your way, take advantage of it. You’ll learn a lot in a short amount of time and have a lot of fun in the process.
Balboa, like Shag, is also danced by Lindy Hoppers to the same fast music as Shag. Although it’s a fast dance, it’s pulse is gentle and it doesn’t use a lot of energy. If you have a partner, it’s a great dance for fast music in tight places as it doesn’t take up much room and is not tiring. It’s pretty intimate, though, as it’s danced in a close embrace. Unlike Shag, it’s a complex, challenging dance that takes a time commitment to learn. While you can pick up Shag in a fun short workshop, you’ll need a series of classes to nail Balboa. As with other challenging dances, it’s not just the footwork that is complex, but the way you move your partner. For this reason I highly recommend getting the basics in private lessons rather than group classes.
Balboa got its name from its place of origin. It started on Balboa Island in Southern California where the original dancers continue to dance. There are still a few of them, now in their nineties, still cutting a rug and appearing as honored guests at Balboa weekends.
The basic step is tricky to learn and you have to be committed to practicing. Unlike St. Louis Shag, however, the rest of the dance is just as tricky. Here in the Bay Area, Balboa dancers are like Shag dancers. They’re out there, but you may not find one when you need one! 🙂