The Collegiate Shag (or “Shag“) is a partner dance done primarily to ragtime, fast swing, hot jazz and it also adapts well with 1950s roots rock ‘n’ roll.
With its slow-slow-quick-quick rhythms combined with wildly distinctive kicks, it’s one of the more recognizable of the swing dances. During the swing revival of the 1990s the youngsters (retro-swing) dancers in Southern California helped to keep this dance alive by learning from the vintage films and directly from the Hollywood old-timers who were genuinely thrilled to pass down the techniques to new generations of fans.
Since that time period, The Collegiate Shag has seen a boom in popularity worldwide (on the swing dance circuit) as there are multiple dance festivals and contests across Europe and Asia that are dedicated to this style today.
The Collegiate Shag originated in the South (likely The Carolinas) and was commonly known as the “Flea Hop.” It likely predates the Lindy Hop as there is evidence of it being danced in the early 1920s. Its origins are also closely tied in with the Fox Trot as that was a dance that college kids would take and “liven up” by adding kicks, twists and a youthful energy that resulted in the Collegiate Shag that we know today.
The term Collegiate was simply a descriptive term used to explain who, or the way a dance was done. For instance Collegiate Waltz, or Collegiate Fox Trot, simply put, this was the way the college kids did the dance. Not tied to any ballroom or studio standard or structure, but rather to whatever they felt was the way. This could be considered a rebellious type of dance, but not so much in that they just had their own way which was, or could have been, the trendy or cool way to do it….
Peter Loggins (swing dance historian)
Of further note, there were many Intercollegiate Dance Contests held in NYC in the 1920s & 1930s, which held “Shag” divisions (with notables like Conklin & Coleman taking home a win). John Englert & Ruth Schelm who appeared in Hollywood films demonstrating this style won the first Harvest Moon Ball Collegiate Shag division in 1937.